An investigation into the composing processes and graphic linguistic awareness of three very young children

Material Information

An investigation into the composing processes and graphic linguistic awareness of three very young children
Childers, Nancye M. ( Nancye Mae ) ( Dissertant )
Lamme, Linda Leonard ( Thesis advisor )
Ashton, Patricia T. ( Reviewer )
Crocker, Linda M. ( Reviewer )
Krogh, Suzanne E. ( Reviewer )
Ross, Dorene D. ( Reviewer )
Wenzel, Evelyn L. ( Reviewer )
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
Publication Date:
Copyright Date:
Physical Description:
xi, 231 leaves : ill. ; 28 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Alphabetic letters ( jstor )
Alphabets ( jstor )
Child psychology ( jstor )
Letter writing ( jstor )
Linguistics ( jstor )
Observational research ( jstor )
Verbalization ( jstor )
Words ( jstor )
Writing instruction ( jstor )
Written communication ( jstor )
Curriculum and Instruction thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- Curriculum and Instruction -- UF
Language arts (Preschool) ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


This study consisted of an investigation into the composing (dictating/writing/drawing) processes of 3 children ages 2, 3, and 4 at the onset, and the graphic linguistic awareness evidenced as these children generated their own graphic representation. Sixteen structured composing episodes were conducted over a 6 month period, in which the children composed as a group with a responsive adult. Research methodology employed in the study was eclectic in design, involving case study, observational, and ethnographic techniques. Videotapes of the 16 sessions were transcribed and analyzed by 2 coders to describe children's composing processes and to graph and to analyze their graphic linguistic awareness and the nature and functions of their oral interaction while composing. The unique contribution of this study to research in the area of composing was the development of a research methodology for obtaining and analyzing data on the composing processes of children ages 2-4. Previous research has not studied children so young and appropriate research methodologies had not been developed. The group setting, together with the composing tasks and adult direction, resulted in lengthy sessions (35 to 80 minutes) of active composing. Other researchers have studied children individually. For the 3 children in this study, the group sessions were productive research environments. Secondarily, it was observed that the children participated more actively in the composing process when the activities were personal, purposeful, and communication for an immediate audience (personal letters and greeting cards) than when the audience was less well defined (group books). The primary contribution of this study to the research literature in language awareness was likewise the development of a research setting and methodology conducive to ascertaining the graphic linguistic awareness of children ages 2-4. The term graphic linguistic awareness was identified by this study to represent that component of metalinguistic awareness which focuses on graphic representation and its meaning. The study further contributes an operational definition of graphic linguistic awareness which emerged from observations of the 3 children as they composed. This study has operationally defined graphic linguistic awareness to include letter awareness, word awareness, spelling awareness, and print awareness. In the area of graphic linguistic awareness, some of the findings might have been anticipated, i.e., that children would be fascinated with each other's names. The quantity of graphic linguistic awareness displayed was an unexpected finding, as were the many diverse ways in which the awareness was demonstrated. This study raised questions about viewing the composing process for young children as solitary and silent and demonstrated the usefulness of the children's oral interactions both for gathering data about graphic linguistic awareness and for enhancing the composing processes themselves. A schema of the functions of oral interaction while composing was developed. Research in composing might utilize the group setting and composing strategies developed for this study. Researchers might investigate the impact of an immediate audience and of purposeful, meaningful communication on the composing processes of children ages 2-4. The term graphic linguistic awareness provides clarity to researchers. The operational definition offers a framework around which future studies might be designed. The amount of graphic linguistic awareness already obtained by the children in this study was substantial, indicating a need to explore the origins of graphic linguistic awareness with even younger children. This investigation gives guidance to researchers in the areas of early childhood composing and linguistic awareness. It provides a theoretical construct around which an early childhood writing curriculum might be developed and researched. Many questions were generated which provide direction for future research in these areas.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1981.
Includes bibliographic references (leaves 219-230).
General Note:
General Note:
Statement of Responsibility:
by Nancye M. Childers.

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University of Florida
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Copyright [name of dissertation author]. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
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Copyright 1981


Nancye M. Childers

This dissertation is dedicated

to the children of the study,

Terry, Laurel, and Amy

who taught, that I might teach.


I wish to acknowledge the following people who made

this study a reality, and who provided support and en-

couragement throughout my doctoral program:

My chairperson and good friend, Dr. Linda Lamme, who

was the inspiration for this study and who introduced me

to the wonders of children's language;

My committee,Dr. Patricia Ashton, Dr. Linda Crocker,

Dr. Suzanne Krogh, Dr. Dorene Ross, and Dr. Evelyn Wenzel,

who gave freely of their advice and enthusiasm and who

exemplify the highest professional standards;

My sons, Timmy, Kelly, and Terry,who cheered me on

with their eternal optimism, pride, and a Thesaurus;

My daughter, Kate, who provided kisses and hugs as


My husband, Dick, who gave me a smile when I

succeeded, a nudge when I hesitated, and his hand when

I faltered:

My Mom, who will always be a part of everything I




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. . . . . . . . . .. iv

ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . viii


I INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . 1
Statement of the Problem . . . . 6
Need for the Study . . . . . . 7
Design of the Study. . . . . .. 10
Scope of the Study . . . . . . 11
Definition of Terms. . . . . .. 12

Graphic Linguistic Awareness . . . 13
The Composing Process. . . . . .. 20
Methodology. . . . . . . .. 31
Summary. . . . . . . . .. 36

III DESIGN. . . . . . . . . .. 38
Subjects . . . . . . . . 38
Procedure. . . . . . . . .. 40
Role of the Researcher in Episodes . .. 43
Data Collection and Analysis . . . 44
Limitations. . . . . . . .. 47

Episode 1--Exploration of Materials. . 48
Episode 2--Halloween Cards . . . . 51
Episode 3--Thanksgiving Placecards . .. 54
Episode 4--Letters to Santa. . . ... 58
Episode 5--Individual Stories. . . . 62
Episode 6--Christmas Placemats . . . 65
Episode 7--Valentine Cards . . . . 68
Episode 8--Valentine Cards . . . . 71
Episode 9--Group Book. . . . . .. 74
Episode 10--Individual Books . . . 77
Episode 11--Easter Cards . . . . 80
Episode 12--Easter Cards . . . . 83
Episode 13--Easter Cards . . . . 86
Episode 14--Individual Books . . . 89
Episode 15--Personal Letters . . . 92
Episode 16--Mother's Day Cards . . . 96


Terry as Composer. . . . . . .. 99
Profile . . . . . . . . 99
Laurel as Composer . . . . . . 103
Profile . . . . . . . . 103
Amy as Composer. . . . . . .. 107
Profile . . . . . . . . 107
Summary. . . . . . . . .. 110

Alphabet Letter Awareness. . . . ... 117
Mock and Scribble Letters . . . 118
Tracing and Coloring in Alphabet
Letters . . . . . . . 120
Notices Alphabet Letters. . . ... 121
Naming and Writing Alphabet Letters . 122
Summary . . . . . . . . 123
Word Awareness . . . . . . . 124
Defining Concept of Word. . . ... 126
Copying and Writing Words . . . 127
Summary . . . . . . . . 128
Spelling Awareness . . . . . . 129
Defines Concept of Spelling . . . 129
Spelling Words. . . . . . .. 131
Summary . . . . . . . . 132
Print Awareness. . . . . . .. 133
Defines Concept of Writing. . . . 133
Demonstrating Audience Awareness. . 136
Reading Pictures or Print . . . 137
Writes, Dictates, or Draws. . . . 139
Summary . . . . . . . . 141
Children's Verbal Terminology. . . . 142
Summary. . . . . . . . .. 145

WHILE COMPOSING . . . . . . . 148
Nature of Oral Interaction While
Composing. . . . . . . .. 149
Questions . . . . . . . 150
Answers/Responds. . . . . .. 153
Tells/Shares. . . . . . .. 153
Takes a Break . . . . . . 154
Functions of Oral Interaction While
Composing. . . . . . . .. 155
Planning. . . . . . . .. 158
Describing Materials. . . . .. 158
Dictating a Message . . . . . 159
Questioning and Responding to a
Question . . . . . .. 159
Commanding or Directing . . . . 161
Announcing. . . . . . . .. 161
Explaining. . . . . . . .. 161


Evaluating and Revising . . . . 162
Being Responsive to Another . . . 163
Expressing Frustration. . . . ... 163
Unrelated Comments and Questions. . 164
Role of the Researcher . . . . . 166
Summary. . . . . . . . .. 167

The Composing Process. . . . . .. 170
Graphic Linguistic Awareness . . . 175
Nature and Function of Oral Inter-
action While Composing . . . . 177
Implications for Research on Composing 179
Implications for Research on Graphic
Linguistic Awareness . . . . 184
Implications for Research on Oral
Interaction While Composing. . . . 187
Implications for Curriculum and
Instruction Research . . . . 188
Summary. . . . . . . . . 192

PLACECARDS) . . . . . . . 198
Terry . . . . . . . . 198
Laurel. . . . . . . . .. 203
Amy . . . . . . . . . 208

WITH BOOK EPISODES . . . . . . 214

REFERENCES . . . . . . . . . . . 219

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. . . . . . . . .. 231

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Nancye M. Childers

June, 1981

Chairperson: Linda Leonard Lamme
Major Department: Curriculum and Instruction

This study consisted of an investigation into the

composing (dictating/writing/drawing) processes of 3

children ages 2, 3, and 4 at the onset, and the graphic

linguistic awareness evidenced as these children generated

their own graphic representation. Sixteen structured

composing episodes were conducted over a 6 month period,

in which the children composed as a group with a respon-

sive adult. Research methodology employed in the study

was eclectic in design, involving case study, observa-

tional, and ethnographic techniques. Videotapes of the

16 sessions were transcribed and analyzed by 2 coders to

describe children's composing processes and to graph and

to analyze their graphic linguistic awareness and the

nature and functions of their oral interaction while



The unique contribution of this study to research in

the area of composing was the development of a research

methodology for obtaining and analyzing data on the com-

posing processes of children ages 2-4. Previous research

has not studied children so young and appropriate research

methodologies had not been developed. The group setting,

together with the composing tasks and adult direction,

resulted in lengthy sessions (35 to 80 minutes) of active

composing. Other researchers have studied children

individually. For the 3 children in this study, the

group sessions were productive research environments.

Secondarily, it was observed that the children

participated more actively in the composing process when

the activities were personal, purposeful, and communica-

tion for an immediate audience (personal letters and

greeting cards) than when the audience was less well

defined (group books).

The primary contribution of this study to the re-

search literature in language awareness was likewise the

development of a research setting and methodology con-

ducive to ascertaining the graphic linguistic awareness

of children ages 2-4. The term graphic linguistic aware-

ness was identified by this study to represent that com-

ponent of metalinguistic awareness which focuses on

graphic representation and its meaning.

The study further contributes an operational defini-

tion of graphic linguistic awareness which emerged from

observations of the 3 children as they composed. This

study has operationally defined graphic linguistic aware-

ness to include letter awareness, word awareness, spelling

awareness, and print awareness.

In the area of graphic linguistic awareness, some of

the findings might have been anticipated, i.e., that

children would be fascinated with each other's names.

The quantity of graphic linguistic awareness displayed

was an unexpected finding, as were the many diverse ways

in which the awareness was demonstrated.

This study raised questions about viewing the com-

posing process for young children as solitary and silent

and demonstrated the usefulness of the children's oral

interactions both for gathering data about graphic

linguistic awareness and for enhancing the composing

processes themselves. A schema of the functions of oral

interaction while composing was developed.

Research in composing might utilize the group setting

and composing strategies developed for this study. Re-

searchers might investigate the impact of an immediate

audience and of purposeful, meaningful communication on

the composing processes of children ages 2-4.

The term graphic linguistic awareness provides

clarity to researchers. The operational definition offers

a framework around which future studies might be designed.

The amount of graphic linguistic awareness already ob-

tained by the children in this study was substantial,

indicating a need to explore the origins of graphic

linguistic awareness with even younger children.

This investigation gives guidance to researchers in

the areas of early childhood composing and linguistic

awareness. It provides a theoretical construct around

which an early childhood writing curriculum might be

developed and researched. Many questions were generated

which provide direction for future research in these



Research into the field of writing is shifting in

focus from an evaluation of product to an investigation of

process (Vukelich & Golden, 1981). Studies by Emig (1969)

with 12th grade children, and Graves (1977, 1978) with five

and seven year olds have opened the door to research on the

writing process and have introduced alternative orienta-

tions and methodology. A natural extension of their

efforts was to research the very beginning of composing

(writing/drawing) in younger children (ages 2-4).

Children of these ages are also beginning to try to

make sense of the world of print which surrounds them (Clay,

1975). This emerging process may be termed graphic

linguistic awareness, i.e., an awareness of the printed

word or the symbols used in writing or printing to convey

meaning. Studies involving this area of research have

recorded children's linguistic awareness in response to

reading activities (Downing, 1970b; Holden & MacGinitie,

1972) or in response to print not of their own generation

(Harste, Burke & Woodward, 1979). Research which would

investigate the evidence of graphic linguistic awareness

manifested by children as they are composing (writing/

drawing) was needed. Children's generation of their own

graphic representations served as a useful tool for the

revelation of graphic linguistic awareness.

Numerous studies have been published within the last

decade focusing on reading (and prereading) skills and

language development. Most currently "metalinguistic

awareness"--an awareness of the nature of one's own

language--predominates as a topic of research in the area

of early childhood education. This awareness includes

knowing what reading and language are; what a letter,

word, sentence and story are; and what the conventions of

print are (such as left to right and top to bottom pro-

gression, word boundaries, etc.) (Weaver & Shonkoff, 1978).

This awareness has also been termed "linguistic accessi-

bility" (Klima in Cazden, 1974) and the ability to

"manipulate language as an object" (Ehri, 1975).

Pertinent studies consistently demonstrate that

young children ages 2-4 have a vague and confusing aware-

ness of the terms typically used in conjunction with

interaction with print, such as sentence, word, sound,

letter, etc. (Clay, 1975; Downing, 1970a; Johns, 1977;

Reid, 1966). Practically all of the research in this

area has concentrated on studies of oral language and

reading. Writing, or the generation of one's own graphic

symbols, is rarely the focus of research in preschool age

children and seldom is the vehicle for assessing linguistic

awareness at any level.

Although the areas of reading, speaking and writing

have been demonstrated consistently to be highly inter-

related (Gibson & Levin-,.1975; Mason, 1980; Page, 1974;

Reid, 1966), Stanley and Pershin (1978) state that writing

has long been considered a "secondary system" to speech

and reading. Studies that have been conducted have been

almost exclusively concerned with the product of the

children's efforts. Writing process research is "virgin

territory" (Graves, 1979b).

For some reason long obscured, the child has "little

motivation to learn writing when we begin to teach it and

has only a vague idea of its usefulness" (Vygotsky, 1962,

p. 99). Yet research has clearly demonstrated that between

3 and 5 years of age most children in a literate

society express an interest in writing (Hall, Moretz &

Statom, 1976), and become aware that "people make marks

on paper purposefully" (Clay, 1977). This expressed

interest in writing appears to correspond roughly with a

child's beginning interest in reading and with an increase

in his/her verbal development. Oral and written language,

in fact, appear to have parallel development (Harste et al.,


Evidence is now being submitted to support the theory

that written language develops naturally just as oral

language does (Goodman & Goodman, 1981), and growth in

one area of communication enhances the development of

another (Harste et al., 1979; Klein, 1981). In fact,

studies show that children acquire skills in reading and

writing, just as they do in speaking and listening, at a

very young age (Doake, 1979b). Mattingly (1972)

hypothesizes that the wider the gap in time between a

child's major acquisition of speech skills and the

literacy skills of reading and writing, the greater will

be the child's "cognitive confusion" and the harder it

will be to learn to read and write.

Traditionally, the processes of writing and reading

have been researched separately, as if each were an entity

unto itself. Development in writing, however, has been

demonstrated to be closely related to development in

reading (Luria, in Clay, 1977; Hall et al., 1976; Harste

et al., 1979). Early readers studied by Durkin (1966) and

Clark (1975) were termed "pencil and paper kids" by their

parents, and the initial indication of curiosity about

written language was an interest in scribbling and drawing

(Durkin, 1966, p. 137). Ferguson (1975) found children's

ability to write their name at the beginning of kinder-

garten to be a predictor of later reading ability.

Serious questions must be raised about the prevailing

notion that the sequence of language learning is listening,

speaking, reading, and then writing (Hall et al., 1976).

Indeed, it would seem that research in prereading mandates

simultaneous research in prewriting, as both are forms of

language processing (Page, 1974). Further, it would seem

that the interrelationships among all forms of written

language should be the focal point of study rather than

the segmentation and polarization thereof. Communication

is, after all, the intent of writer, reader, and speaker

(Gillooly, 1973; Page, 1974).

Instruction in writing, commonly practiced as though

it were synonomous with handwriting (Whiteman, 1980), is

one of the most rigid areas in the early childhood

curriculum. Children are typically forced to copy, trace,

and stay within lines. The products of their labors are

very technically evaluated, even in the preschool. Yet,

research has shown that direct instruction is of limited

use at a young age (Hildreth, 1936) and that exploration

and trial-and-error by the child are most beneficial (Clay,

1977). Demands for accuracy and perfection actually hinder

instruction in writing (Goodman & Goodman, 1981). Un-

structured composing (drawing and writing) or precomposing

activities (consisting of scribbles, drawing and emerging

graphic symbols) are a foundation upon which instruction

may be based. Zepeda de Kane (1980) cites children

communicating graphically as "building bridges of meaning

as they drew" (p. iv). It has been demonstrated that

writing emerges from drawing, without direct instruction

(Ames & Ilg, 1951; Wheeler, 1971) and, further, that

children's drawings become the basis of written communi-

cation (Lamme, 1981). In fact, these composing behaviors

may even serve as organizers of reading behaviors (Clay,

1975). The removal of rigidity and preoccupation with

product may tend to encourage more positive writing

experiences and more enjoyment.

Composing activities are seldom presented that pro-

vide young children the opportunity to see that their own

efforts have meaning--that their writing/drawing is pur-

poseful and can communicate. As Bruner (1971, p. 113)


There is a very crucial matter about acquiring
a skill--be it chess, political savvy, biology,
or skiing. The goal must be plain, one must
have a sense of where one is trying to get to
in any given instance of activity.

This aspect appears to have been ignored in the area

of prewriting instruction. Drawing sticks, circles, and

lollipops are merely an exercise. Communication is a

necessary prerequisite of learning to write (DeFord, 1980).

Writing has a purpose, so writing (and prewriting) educa-

tion must "suit the child's real purpose of communication

from the beginning" (Hildreth, 1964, p. 19).

Statement of the Problem

Research into children's composing processes demon-

strates the need for an investigation of the composing

processes of children prior to school age. In this study

the researcher attempted to describe the composing

processes of 3 very young children as they communi-

cated through dictating, writing, and drawing. At each

session children were given an opportunity to dictate or

write a message for real communication (such as a greeting

card, letter, placecard for a table, or a book). The

children then completed their messages by drawing and/or


Research in the area of metalinguistic awareness has

focused on asking children direct questions about print not

of their own generation. Such direct metalinguistic ques-

tions may be inappropriate for very young children (Sulzby,

1979). This study used the composing processes as sources

for information about children's graphic linguistic aware-

ness. The environment for the investigation was much like

one that could exist in a preschool situation--a group of

3 children interacting with a responsive adult.

Need for the Study

The proposed study addressed the call for composing

process research (Graves, 1981). Typically, evaluation

and discussion have centered on an examination of the final

effort without specific inquiry into the operations per-

formed within the composing process itself. This type of

research has proved unsatisfactory (Applebee, 1981). The

products of very young children often reveal layers of

work which are later covered up by additional graphic

symbols (Lamme, 1981). Also, in the examination of the

product only, any verbalization or "composing aloud"

(Emig, 1977) that accompanies the process of composing is

lost. Drawing/writing can provide situations in which the

researcher observes the ways in which a child "organizes

his behavior" (Clay, 1975) verbally and physically. Sulzby

(1979) claims that both the direct metalinguistic question

and the indirect metalinguistic question are important in

research investigations. The indirect metalinguistic

question is defined as "giving a child something to do and

then observing what happens" (p. 3). It was the contention

of this investigator that it is the indirect graphic

linguistic question that is of primary concern; for

questioning a very young child directly may result in

misleading information or no information at all (Sulzby,


The researcher, also, through detailed descriptions

of the young child's composing episodes could provide

needed information to educators and parents about learning

to write and learning to read (Hall et al., 1976). Indepth

studies of children while they are writing is of prime

importance (Graves, 1981) in order to provide the data

needed to begin the development of a theory of writing

(King & Rentel, 1979). It is probable that the first pre-

writing steps in composing (drawing/writing) and the

accompanying verbal expressions have been ignored because

there is not, as yet, a theoretical base upon which to make

"formulations and predictions" (King & Rentel, 1979).

The emphasis in the schools has typically been formal

instruction in reading and listening (passive), while a

knowledge of child development indicates that stressing

talking and writing (active) would be preferable in en-

hancing all communication skills (Emig, 1977). This study

sought to take advantage of the links between these active

communication processes. First, the researcher examined

the process of writing--how very young children go about

composing. This was accomplished by placing children in

a particular set of situations that provided for composing

to be viewed as communication. Secondly, the ways in

which children evidenced graphic linguistic awareness at

a young age were studied, with the composing episode as

a focal point of data generation.

To do this on a large scale or with experimental

methodology was inappropriate at this time. Pertinent

variables in writing research are only beginning to be

identified (Graves, 1979a). "Detailed observational

descriptions" (Hall et al., 1976, p. 585) and observations

over time to investigate interrelationships among the

variables identified were mandatory.

The present study differed from previous studies of

the composing process by

(1) involving children at younger ages than have

previously been studied;

(2) involving children who were composing in a small

group (of three children) similar to composing

as it may take place in school settings;

(3) following and videotaping the children periodically

for a period of 6 months, for a total of 16

sessions; and

(4) centering the composing episodes around communi-

cation that is purposeful and meaningful to the


The present study differed from previous studies of

children's graphic linguistic awareness by

(1) gathering data as children generated graphic

representation (not as they responded to the

print of others); and

(2) gathering data from the small group of children

as they discussed their composing during and

subsequent to the composing process.

Design of the Study

The study consisted of indepth case studies and

ethnographic observations of three children ages 35, 46,

and 50 months at the onset of the study. The children

were videotaped in structured composing sessions involving

purposeful graphic communication for a period of 6

months--a total of 16 tapes. The videotapes were analyzed

in a variety of ways for insight into children's composi-

tional writing processes and for evidences of their graphic

linguistic awareness. Data were transcribed from the

videotapes in descriptive narrative form so that a profile

of each individual child as a composer could be obtained.

From careful analysis of videotapes, specific behaviors

were charted as they pertained to each child's evidences

of graphic linguistic awareness. These observations

further operationally refined current definitions of

graphic linguistic awareness.

As with any study based on anthropologic methodology,

the researcher was continually interpreting, reappraising,

analyzing, and reorganizing the composing sessions and

reexamining the focus of research in the light of previous

findings. Questions were generated throughout and evidence

reported to either refute or support emerging conclusions.

Scope of the Study

The following questions were asked at the onset of

the study:

(1) What are the composing processes of 3 very young

children (ages 2-4)?

(2) What evidences of graphic linguistic awareness

appear in the composing processes of 3 very young

children (ages 2-4)?

These questions were discussed in light of 16 com-

posing sessions over a period of 6 months. As the study

progressed, new questions emerged and these also were

considered. The role of oral interaction surrounding the

composing episodes particularly demanded attention.

Implications were discussed for early childhood education

and parental practices. A new list of questions and

hypotheses necessitating further study was generated.

Definition of Terms

Composing refers to the drawing/writing/dictating

process as evidenced by the young child in structured

situations designed by the investigator.

Metalinguistic awareness is defined as an awareness

of the nature of one's own language including such aware-

ness as: knowing what reading is; what a letter, word,

sentence, and story are; and an awareness of the conven-

tions of print such as left to right progression, word

boundaries, etc. (Weaver & Shonkoff, 1978). The origin

of the word is in metalanguage--meaning a language used

to talk about another language.

Graphic linguistic awareness refers specifically to

a child's awareness of the written or printed word or the

symbols used in writing or printing to convey meaning.

This includes letter awareness, word awareness, spelling

awareness, and print awareness.


This study was designed to investigate the composing

processes and graphic linguistic awareness of 3 chil-

dren ages 2-4, utilizing observational and case study

procedures. The 3 purposes of this chapter are to

review: (a) research findings pertaining to graphic

linguistic awareness; (b) available literature on the

composing process; and (c) relevant research surrounding

various anthropologic techniques of collecting, analyzing,

and presenting qualitative data.

Graphic Linguistic Awareness

The term graphic linguistic awareness embodies the

child's awareness of the printed word or the symbols used

in writing or printing to represent sound and convey

meaning. Researchers consistently demonstrate that the

terms word, letter, sentence, and number are often con-

fused (Clay, 1977; Downing, 1970a;Reid, 1966) and used

interchangeably by children (Downing, 1969) when they are

confronted with printed language. Johns (1977) suggests

that, in fact, young children do not possess an adequate

concept of a spoken word, which may somewhat account for

their difficulty in identifying words in printed form.

Studies have further shown that children have difficulty

segmenting words visually and identifying visual word

boundaries (Holden & MacGinitie, 1972; Meltzer & Herse,

1969). Downing (1969) quotes Vernon as citing a kind of

"cognitive confusion" that typically characterizes young

children's encounters with print, though most children

are able to work themselves into increasing "cognitive

clarity" (Downing, 1979). It is also suggested that this

initial cognitive phase, in which the basic conventions

of print are introduced and enriched, is often neglected

by educators (Downing, 1979; Ferguson, 1975). It is for

this reason that the "abstract quality of written language

is the main stumbling block" (Vygotsky, 1962, p. 99) for

many children in learning to read and write and that chil-

dren regard the purpose of print as mysterious (Reid, 1966).

Yet, print or writing is merely observable language

(Page, 1974) and has communication as its basic function

just as oral language does. Researchers state that chil-

dren will attain a level of graphic linguistic awareness

in much the same way as they learn to speak and listen

to their language (Doake, 1979b; Goodman & Goodman, 1981;

Harste et al., 1979). Children appear, however, to grasp

the purposeful communication facet of oral language more

readily than they grasp that of written language (Downing,

1969). Perhaps this is because language is not learned in

a situation where it is independent of function (Klein,

1981; Smith, 1977). Children are often asked to learn

about the conventions of print in contexts which are, to

the child, meaningless and contrived. The child, quite

reasonably, may be able to make more sense of written

language if it is meaningfully context-bound (Hiebert,

1978). Written language which is meaningful

to children, i.e., their own name, has been successfully

used to teach conventions of print such as word boundaries

(Holden & MacGinitie, 1972).

The sequence of a child's development in the communica-

tion skills is generally thought to be listening,

speaking, reading, and then, writing (Hall et al., 1976).

However, many researchers point out that a child's interest

in written language occurs at a very young age (Clay, 1975;

Durkin, 1966; Read, 1971). Clay (1977) maintains that

children somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5 become

aware that marks are made on paper purposefully and that

they contain a message. Researchers (Gibson & Levin, 1975;

Lavine, 1977) have found that children as young as age 3

can distinguish pictures from writing and preschool children

have a definite list of conditions as to what constitutes

writing (Lavine, 1977). Harste et al. (1979) contend that

the development of oral and written language are parallel

rather than serial and that the child will draw on his/her

"linguistic data pool" in order to communicate--utilizing

"alternative and available communications systems" (p. 32)

in his/her interactions with the environment. The early

preschool years appear to be an active time for the develop-

ment of graphic linguistic awareness (Hiebert, 1981), and

children apparently do not progress in this development

in a linear manner (Deford, 1980; Harste et al., 1979;

Lundsteen, 1976). Growth in the area of graphic linguistic

awareness appears to vary considerably with the individual

(Cazden, 1974).

Further, Doake (1979a) deplores the distinction con-

sistently made between oral and written language and con-

tends that children are intrinsically motivated toward

literacy. It has been demonstrated that children can and

do acquire written language at the same time they are

acquiring oral language (Rhodes, 1979) if they are

surrounded by an environment in which literacy is valued

(Bissex, 1980a; Clay, 1977; Gibson & Levin, 1975). The

same "linguistic curiosity" that motivates the child's

interactions with oral language will motivate them in

interactions with print as well (Downing, 1979). In no

way are reading and writing a second order abstraction

of oral language (Baghban, 1979). Conversely, Downing

(1979, p. 5) reaffirms Mattingly's position that "the

child who is no longer very actively acquiring language

will surely find learning to read very difficult and


Development in writing has been frequently associated

with development in reading (Hall, 1976; Harste et al.,

1979; Luria, 1970), although Reid (1966) found that the

children in his studies had a general lack of knowledge

of the relationship between reading and writing. Page

(1974) states that writing and reading are both forms of

language processing. Both have communication as their

common function (Gillooly, 1973) and children learn how

to write as an extension of their innate need to communi-

cate (King & Rentel, 1979; Lundsteen, 1976). Chomsky (1971)

feels that the common practice of learning to read prior to

learning to write in schools should be reversed, and

Durkin (1966) found that her early readers were extremely

interested in writing, some learning to write first and

thereby learning to read.

Jean Piaget (1969, p. 70) in citing work done by

Freinet in setting up a school states that

It is obvious that a child who is himself
printing small fragments of text will
succeed in learning to read, write and
spell in a very different manner from
one who has no idea at all how the
printed documents he has to use are made.

First experience with exposure to labels and alphabet

letters provides a background for linguistic awareness

(Ehri, 1975) and enables the child to make "good guesses"

about the function of print (Mason, 1980). Smith (1976,

p. 299) contends that "children probably begin to read

from the moment they become aware of print in any

meaningful way." The sequence of this developing aware-

ness has been shown to be recitation, then naming and

printing of letters, then the actual reading of signs

and labels (Mason, 1980). Smith (1976) terms this early

struggling of children to make sense of print the "roots

of reading." The naming of alphabet letters appears to

be an important component of the linguistic awareness

process (Hardy, Stennett & Smythe, 1974) but researchers

are undecided as to what function this ability serves.

Templeton (1980) terms it a "simple but engaging task"

(p. 457) that the child can utilize as a beginning

venture into the world of reading and writing. Parnell

(in Hiebert, 1978) cites the notion held by many that

the recitation of alphabet letters is a fundamental

prerequisite of learning to read. Others believe that

the learning of letters is an isolated exercise with

little relation to reading. Beers and Beers (1980) fear

the use of letters as one dimensional characters will

hinder reading and writing progress. Smith (1976) states

flatly that the knowledge of alphabet letters is not a

prerequisite of word identification. Opinion is divided

as to whether the child is able to understand the concept

"letter" before "word" (Francis, 1973) or "word" before

"letter" or even "sentence" before "words" (Goodman &

Goodman, 1981; Holden & MacGinitie, 1972). Stanley and

Pershin (1978) state that an examination of the children's

concepts of what they believe they are writing (i.e.,

letter, word, story, etc.) could give insight as to the

child's ability to deal with these concepts in reading.

Children's graphic linguistic awareness can be enhanced

by immersion in an atmosphere rich with printed language

(Bissex, 1980a; Rhodes, 1979; Templeton, 1980). Children

need someone to answer their questions about written

language (Chomsky, 1979) and to share their graphic and

oral communications (Shanahan, 1980). Children must be

provided adult models of literacy and must be able to

observe print utilized in purposeful ways (Hildreth, 1964).

The child is bombarded on all sides with language, both

oral and written, and is actively trying to develop a

system to make sense of it all (Clay, 1975). Writing may

well serve as such a system.

The graphic linguistic awareness of the very young

child (i.e., his/her awareness of the printed word or the

symbols used in writing or printing to represent sound

and convey meaning) can provide researchers and educators

with valuable information concerning the development of

all aspects of the communication skills. Previous studies

have recorded young children's graphic linguistic awareness

in response to reading activities (Downing, 197Qa;Holden

& MacGinitie, 1972) and in response to print not of their

own generation (Harste et al., 1979). It would seem a

valuable research opportunity to investigate children's

expression of graphic linguistic awareness as they generate

their own graphic representations in the process of composing.

The Composing Process

Research in the field of composing is beginning to take

a welcome turn from an emphasis on the evaluation of products

to an investigation of the composing process (Applebee,

1981; Vukelich & Golden, 1981). This emphasis was first

demonstrated by Emig (1969) in her description of the com-

posing processes with twelfth grade children. Her research

was followed by Graves' study of the composing behaviors of

7 year old children in 1973 and of 5. year old

children in 1977.

The composing process of preschool children is a

particularly interesting area of investigation. Verbal

activity which accompanies the composing process can serve

as a rich source of data concerning children's conceptions

of language and print. Very young children may not be

able to answer a direct metalinguistic question, but may

provide, through observation, answers to the indirect

metalinguistic question (Sulzby, 1979). In addition, the

examination of the products of young children may fail to

reveal layers of work, later obscured by more graphic

symbols (Lamme, 1981).

Researchers have categorized the writing process into

3 stages (Vukelich & Golden, 1981):

Stage 1--the prewriting stage or incubation period

(Schiff, 1979) that included preparation, planning, organiza-

tion and commitment (Britton et al., 1975) to the writing

act. This may include talking and drawing in young children

(Graves, 1979b).

Stage 2--the composing stage in which the actual

graphic representation takes place. In young children

this may consist of dictation (Froese, 1978), writing,

drawing, or a combination--but the text is clearly that

of the child's generation (Clay, 1975). The number and

length of pauses children take while composing appear

to be significant (Graves, 1979b; Pianko, 1979) as is the

simultaneous verbalization of the task that takes place

(Emig, 1977).

Stage 3--the postwriting stage consists of revision

and alteration of the product. In young children this

stage may consist of the seeking of approval, rereading

of message and sharing. Graves (1979b) finds peers to be

an important factor in this stage.

The composing process of very young children (ages

2-4) contains another vital dimension--drawing. Children

of this age cannot (or choose not to) communicate their

thoughts adequately using alphabet symbols, but they can

purposefully communicate utilizing an infinite variety

of graphic representations. Therefore, the composing

process for very young children includes both the elements

of writing and drawing.

Drawing is enjoyable motor activity--an ability which

children innately possess (Platt, 1977). This concrete

activity contributes to the learning process in young

children (Fillmer & Zepeda de Kane, 1980). Very early in

life children are intrinsically motivated (Lowenfeld &

Brittain, 1975) to scribble (graphic expression) just as

they are motivated to babble (verbal expression) (Eng,

1932; Zepeda de Kane, 1980). Scribbling is "motor

pleasure" (Kellog, 1969) and much more. Thought to be

the "building blocks of art" (Kellog, 1969), scribbling

provides the child with the necessary building blocks of

writing as well. In fact, in the very earliest stages,

writing and scribbling are all one in the same (Hildreth,

in Ames & Ilg, 1951)--an external graphic representation

of internal imagery (Zepeda de Kane, 1980). As early as

age 3, however, children display a knowledge of the

difference between writing and drawing (Hiebert, 1978;

Lavine, 1977). When asked to write, very young children

have been found to produce scribbles that share the

properties of linearity and horizontal orientation

(Hildreth, 1936) which are not evident in their drawings.

Researchers have demonstrated that by allowing a child to

interact freely with materials and immersing him in a

literate environment, the child's composing behaviors

will evidence a network of graphic representations--among

them being most alphabet letters (Kellog, 1969). Eng (1954,

p. 34), in her daily study of her niece, Margaret, states

she had no actual teaching, but asked from
time to time what the name of this or that
letter was, or asked to have drawn for her
a letter which she knew she could not draw.

Margaret was 3 years, 8 months at the time. Ames and Ilg

(1951), Clay (1975), and Hiebert (1978) are among the

researchers who continue to emphasize the child's active

interest in the production of print.

Children's early drawing, writing, and scribbling

progress through a series of predictable stages, the

first of which is the seemingly random scribbling motions,

back and forth, circular--which appear aimless, but which

give pleasure (Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1975) and practice

in the eye-hand coordination needed for writing (Kellog,

1969). It has also been suggested that these early

spontaneous scribbles define space for the child

(deAjuriaguerra & Auzias, 1975). Lowenfeld and Brittain

(1975) see the child as progressing from making these

random marks on paper to producing a series of controlled

scribbles where some control over his movements is

exhibited, to the naming of scribbling stage, in which

the child has changed "from kinesthetic to imaginative

thinking" (p. 131). It is at this juncture that the

notion of graphic representations as viable communication

begins to emerge (Clay, 1975). It is also at this stage

that the development of a symbol system becomes evident

and that alphabet letters and other signs begin to appear

(Deford, 1980). The appearance of linear mock writing

and the creation of mock letters (Clay, 1975) indicate

that the child has transformed the pleasure of scribbling

into a manifestation of graphic linguistic awareness.

Left-to-right and top-to-bottom directionality may also

be in evidence (Harste et al., 1979).

Lowenfeld and Brittain (1975) term the years typically

between the ages of 4 and 7 as being the children's pre-

schematic stage. They are consciously aware of form and

their own ability to create it. They know that symbols

are representational and integrate this concept into their

composing repertoires. They may try to copy alphabet

symbols (Hildreth in Ames & Ilg, 1951), invent their own,

or utilize a combination of both. Frequently children,

at this stage, express interest in learning an array of

signs (Clay, 1975) that have special meaning to them--their

names. Hildreth (1936) cites experimentation and practice

as the byword of this highly motivating task and concluded

that direct instruction was counterindicated.

Clay (1975) found that children may emphasize and

reaffirm their growing knowledge of composing behaviors

by tracing over letters an adult has written for them.

Frequently, then, the children attempt to copy what the

adult had written directly underneath. From the composing

behaviors of creating alphabet letters and words in

isolation (commonly beginning with their names), the

child progresses to word phrases and words in sentences

(Wheeler, 1971).

Drawing continues to be of value in composing process

even after the children are able to write as they wish.

Clay's (1975) notion that drawing is an organizational

activity in very young composers, seems to hold true as

children acquire more writing skill. Graves (1978) and

Emig (1977) found drawing to be an essential prewriting

activity. Often, however, the meaning becomes apparent

for children during the composing process (Graves, 1979b).

They use the composing process in conjunction with the

thought process.

Children are sure, very early in their lives, that

writing conveys a message (Clay, 1977). They have no

doubt that written language is functional (Harste et al.,

1979), perhaps because they regard their drawings as

functional. Children, then, view their acquisition of

the ability to generate graphic representation as a tool

through which they can realize their desire to communi-

cate with themselves and others (King & Rentel, 1979;

Platt, 1977). Hildreth (1964) urges that the communica-

tion aspect of composing be emphasized from the beginning

and states that "there is no real writing apart from

writing something" (p. 19).

The young child is striving for self-expression--an

expression of feelings and thoughts--in constructive forms

(Kellog, 1969). Early composing which is meaningful and

purposeful can facilitate this self-confidence in a

developmentally satisfying way. Children can compose

with writing, drawing--or any combination of the two--de-

pending on the level of their proficiency. They can

purposefully communicate utilizing the elements at their

disposal (Klein & Schickedanz, 1980). Stanley and Pershin

(1978) maintain that children's own ideas of what is being

composed should be the focus of investigation.

As children progress in their composing behaviors,

they may ask for adult help in their spelling. Researchers

are divided as to whether immediate assistance should be

provided (Clay, 1975), or whether the child should be

persuaded to represent the word with whatever symbols are

at his command (Chomsky, 1979; Paul, 1976; Reid, 1966).

This invented spelling frees children from some of the

constraints of their limited knowledge of rule and con-

vention, and gives them the confidence that anything that

is said can be written (Chomsky, 1979), a kind of spelling

consciousness (Gentry, 1981). Sometimes children will

utilize only the first letter of a word to stand for the

word itself (Chomsky, 1979). Paul (1976) observed that

children seldom invented the same spelling twice; emphasis

is placed by the child on the act of figuring the word

out rather than on the product itself. She also observed

that as soon as the child learned the correct spelling of

a word, it would be substituted for the invented spelling

of that word. Purposeful communication gives spelling

meaning and spelling skills seem to evolve naturally in

a responsive environment (Gentry, 1981). Research into

early spelling has been concerned with the product; the

context in which children invent spellings merits in-


Two elements of the composing process appear to be

critical in order for the composing experiences to be

fruitful. The first, that the purpose of the composing

activity be real and meaningful, has been discussed. The

second, then, is that the writer have a sense of

audience--an awareness of the persons) for whom the

communication is intended (Britton, 1978; Shanahan, 1980).

Too often in composing situations the teacher chooses

the topic, which may or may not be meaningful to the

child (Harste & Burke, 1980), and is the only available

audience (Burgess & Burgess, 1973) and a critical audience

at that (Birnbaum, 1980). A significant difference between

oral and written language is that oral communication is

always replete with an audience (Barritt & Kroll, 1978).

Kroll (1978a) maintains that young composers have

an incomplete sense of audience; that is, they do not

have their audience in mind as they write. He attributes

this lack of awareness to their egocentricity and indicates

that the resulting communication suffers. It seems, how-

ever, that the term audience awareness may have a somewhat

different meaning for the egocentric child. Egocentricity

may keep the very young child from realizing that an

audience can be critical and judgmental. Graves (1979b)

cited Sarah, age 6, as not yet possessing the concept of

audience awareness and thus her graphic play went un-

disturbed. It is possible that the immediacy of an

audience is implicit in an egocentric child's purposeful

communication. These children are the center of their

world. Their compositions are meaningful and fully in-

tended to be read and enjoyed by a significant audience.

The egocentric period may be the perfect moment to intro-

duce composition as meaningful, purposeful communication.

Until they decenter their orientation, and until arbitrary

structure is imposed upon them by the schools (deAjuriaguerra

& Auzias, 1975), children do not realize that writing is

a rigid product-oriented process to be judged. In fact,

Higgins (in Kroll, 1978a) tentatively believes that it is

easier for children to decenter in graphic than in oral


Writing experiences in schools are often typified

by solitude (Burgess & Burgess, 1973; King, 1980) and

mechanical drill (Hildreth, 1964). Mastery of conventions

is viewed as the desirable endproduct, rather than

communication and meaning (Birnbaum, 1980). Given the

freedom with which children are allowed to acquire oral

language, it seems incongruous that so many constraints

are placed on the acquisition of written language (Doake,

197a)-. Early graphic representation in the preschool

child can be compared to a toddler's expression of

"allgone milk" (Gentry, 1978, p. 89). The toddler is

not chastized for his incomplete speech structure, but

the beginning writer is often red-penciled for his in-

complete written structure. Errors in written language

may, in fact, indicate progress through experimentation

rather than failure (Applebee, 1981).

Implications for parents and educators concerning

the composing process are emerging in the literature.

Parents are urged to immerse their children in an environ-

ment of print (Lavine, 1977; Rhodes, 1979), to "cradle

the child with words" (Bullock Report in Doake, 1979a,

p. 4), and to provide children a myriad of opportunities

for graphic expression (Baghban, 1979; Chomsky, 1971;

Gibson & Levin, 1975). Teachers are encouraged to serve

as a writing model and to demonstrate the communicative

aspect of graphic representation (Vukelich & Golden, 1981).

Further, researchers are calling for as much class time

devoted to writing as to reading (Hildreth, 1964). Hughes

(1978) determined that British children spend from 8 to

14 hours per week engaged in the composing process. By

contrast, children in the United States were found to

spend from a low of 1/2 hour per month to a high of 2-1/2

hours per week composing.

Teachers are encouraged to regard composing as a

highly individual process (Graves, 1975) and to allow

children to proceed at their own pace aided by an array

of graphic materials (Lavine, 1977). Shanahan (1980)

cautions educators not to wait until children can read

to begin composing instruction, and Chomsky (1979) main-

tains that effective reading instruction should begin

with writing.

Adults must be active, interested and accepting

factors in the child's composing environment, offering

assistance when asked (Lamme, 1981) and remaining silent

when the child wants (and needs) to go it alone (Klein

& Schieckedanz, 1980). Children must be allowed to make

their own discoveries about written language (Goodman &

Goodman, 1981). Young children actively express more

interest in process than product. Adults are asked to

do the same (Rhodes, 1979).

Researchers also speak of those who would build a

theory of the development of the composing process.

King and Rentel (197.9) urges careful examination of the early

stages of writing development and a close look at the

way in which children move from oral to graphic ex-

pression. Graves (1981) calls for the identification

of pertinent variables in the composing process and

illustration of their interrelationships. The process

of composing must be the focal point of study, not the

finished product (Hall et al., 1976). The context in

which the composing process takes place also must be

investigated (Graves, 1981).

A wealth of data exists in the behaviors of preschool

children; researchers must tap this source with methodology

that is both dynamic and precise in order for the founda-

tions of a theory to be laid. It is possible that elements

of transactional reading theory (Rosenblatt, 1969) and the

socio-psycholinguistic theory of written language develop-

ment (Harste et al., 1979) may be meaningfully applied to

formulation of a theory of early composing behavior and the

accompanying manifestations of graphic linguistic awareness.


Research methodologies concerned with investigations

into new fields of inquiry must be eclectic in design.

Studies performed with very young children (ages 2-4) must

include alternative data gathering and analytic techniques

in addition to conventional measurement and evaluation


The development of graphic linguistic awareness and

the composing (dictating/drawing/writing) processes of

very young children (ages 2-4) are areas currently in

need of study (Vukelich & Golden, 1981). The examination

of finished composing products and quantifiable evaluations

of children's verbal expressions of graphic linguistic

awareness yield data that can be enriched through

qualitative evaluation. Quantitative assessment has

typified the literature in the past and has indicated

the need for more descriptive research techniques utilizing

alternative methodology (Cooper & Odell, 1978).

The fields of anthropology, linguistics, and psychology

yield applicable qualitative methods of data collection and

analysis. Whereas traditional experimental procedures con-

tribute to the amount of data gathered, these disciplines

offer additional qualitative methodologies that seek an

understanding of the data generated (Mishler, 1979). Carini

(1975) contrasts the positivist approach to research with

the phenomenonological approach. In the positivist model,

the researcher is independent of the research situation

observing behavior that is channeled into predetermined

categories. In phenomenological studies, the researcher

is part of the situation to be observed and no preset cate-

gories are imposed on his/her perceptions. The researcher

develops those categories necessary in accordance with the

demands of the phenomenon observed (Wilson, 1977). Studies

fitting this paradigm are commonly called qualitative,

phenomenological, or ethnographic.

Ethnographic research attempts, through observer

participation in the research episode, to gather infor-

mation about behavior that is lost in traditional quanti-

tative study (Wilson, 1977). Proponents of this method,

which is borrowed from the field of anthropology, empha-

size their ability to focus on events in progress, rather

than on the quantifications of past events (Willis, 1978).

The categorization of behavior is open-ended, not auto-

matic (Garfinkel, 1972). Behaviors are not dissected

into variables isolated for manipulation (Bauman, 1970)

but are described in context, indicating the interrela-

tionships and complexities of variables (Bogdan, 1972).

The popular terminology "illuminative evaluation" (Parlett

& Hamilton in Jenkins & O'Toole, 1978) and "action research"

(Corey in Kyle, 1979) refer to the notion of the researcher

as participant, describing and evaluating behavior as it


In emerging fields of study, such as the composing

process and graphic linguistic awareness, much of the

research must be exploratory in design (Lazarsfeld &

Barton, 1959). Bronfenbrenner (1977, p. 513) cites the

emphasis on rigor in research as often producing results

that are technically refined but limited in relevancy.

He further states that researchers often structure experi-

ments so that the results reflect

the strange behavior of children in strange
situations with strange adults for the
briefest possible periods of time.

Ethnographers maintain that human behavior cannot be

understood without consideration of the environment in

which that behavior occurs (Wilson, 1977). Concepts and

hypotheses emerge in the context of the research episode

(McCutcheon's emergent questions, 1978) and theory is

generated as the result of this dynamic methodology

(Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Analysis is not a separate stage

in the process, but an ongoing process which shapes the

research as it progresses (Becker et al., 1961).

Documenting, a process described by Carini (1975),

involves a method of observing, recording, describing,

and analyzing behavior in accordance with ethnographic

research techniques. No standard format is applicable

to all settings; the researcher's encounter with the

situation dictates the documenting procedures (Mishler,


The case study approach has been shown to be a valid

one when applied to composing behaviors (Emig, 1977;

Graves, 1978) and graphic linguistic awareness in young

children (Bissex, 1980a; Rhodes, 1979). Hedda Bolgar

(in Graves, 1977, p. 2) states that "whenever an investi-

gator approaches a new area in which little is known,

the case study is his first methodological choice." This

approach gathers information over time and in great depth,

and generates crucial data to be later utilized in a

variety of research dimensions and in theory building.

Methodology of this type must be meticulously done

if it is to be credible. Researchers must display an

objectivity--an ability to move beyond their own perspective

and include the perspectives of others (Wilson, 1977).

Data must be examined in a variety of ways and reported

clearly and vividly (Kyle, 1979). The researcher must

constantly describe and interpret data and report emerging

patterns as they become evident (Ross, 1978) with truth-

fulness a prime requisite (McCutcheon, 1978). Rigor in

research design and relevance in the ethnographic tradi-

tion do not have to be mutually exclusive (Bronfenbrenner,

1977). Enough evidence should be reported on a given

point to give the reader confidence in the researcher's

tentative multiple hypotheses (Becker et al., 1961). The

final conclusions reached or questions generated must be

thoroughly checked and receive adequate support from data

gathered throughout the research endeavor (Becker, 1958).

Some results may be presented in ways similar to tradi-

tional educational research, if the data justify this

type of presentation (Wilson, 1977). The reader must be

able to understand the theoretical framework (however

tentative) under which the researcher is operating (Glaser

& Strauss, 1965).

The descriptive, ethnographic, and case study

approaches to research are not ends in themselves. They

generate questions and tentative hypotheses which may

serve as the basis for further research projects. These

methodologies can propose general categories, properties

or processes; further investigation can validate and

confirm them (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).


Research into the composing behaviors and graphic

linguistic awareness of very young children is in its

infancy. It appears, however, that a study of the

evidence of graphic linguistic awareness manifested by

children as they are composing (dictating, writing,

drawing) would provide much needed information in both

of the areas in question. Traditional methodology is not

a feasible alternative; qualitative, descriptive, ethno-

graphic research in the form of case studies is the design

of choice.

This study endeavored to broaden the field of com-

posing research by:

(1) examining the composing process of very young

children (ages 2-4) over time;

(2) focusing on the process of composing rather

than the product;

(3) involving children who are composing in a small

group similar to composing as it could take

place in school settings; and

(4) investigating the effect of composing purposeful

activities on the generation of graphic repre-


This study endeavored to broaden the field of graphic

linguistic awareness by:


(1) examining the graphic linguistic awareness children

evidence as they generate their own graphic repre-


(2) exploring the verbal interactions of a small group

of children during and subsequent to the composing

process; and

(3) determining the effect of purposeful composing

activities on children's development of graphic

linguistic awareness.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the

development of the composing processes and emergent graphic

linguistic awareness of 3 very young children. This

was done through the qualitative analysis of data generated

in 16 structured composing sessions conducted over a 6

month time span. This chapter describes the research

design and analysis procedures employed in this study.


Three subjects were recruited for the study. A

description of each child follows.

Terrence (Terry) was age 46 months at the onset of

the study. He is 1 of 4 children, with 2 older

brothers (Kelly, age 9-1/2 and Timmy, age 10-1/2) and a

younger sister (Kate, age 10 months). Terry's father is

a physician and his mother is a doctoral student in early

childhood education at the University of Florida (this

researcher). Terry attended preschool three mornings a

week at the time of the study.

Laurel was 35 months old when the study began. She

is an only child. Her father is an associate professor

of geography at the University of Florida where her mother

is an associate professor of early childhood education.

Laurel did not attend nursery school during the time of

the study.

Amy, 50 months, is I1 of 4 children. She has

2 older sisters (Kathleen, age 9-1/2 and Maureen, age

6-1/2) and 1 younger sister (Megan, age 9 months). Her

father is a physician at the University of Florida Medical

Center. Her mother has a master's degree in reading and

conducts preschool playgroups. Amy attended preschool

5 mornings a week during the study.

These children were chosen for a variety of reasons.

All 3 were easily accessible to the investigator and

could be closely followed and videotaped for the 6 month

period of study.

Glaser and Strauss (1967) encourage the choice of

a group for discovering theory that will help generate

as many properties of the development of emergent cate-

gories as possible. Graves (1979b) maintains that the

choice of children for a case study approach is the exact

opposite of the typical experimental approach of random

sampling. Children are carefully selected who will

generate quantities of data and illustrate critical

variables. The children chosen for this study possessed

a verbal ability that enabled the researcher to obtain

a clearer picture of the composing activities and

accompanying thought processes than if the children were

reluctant verbalizers. The 3 children were all com-

fortable with the researcher and with each other.


The 3 children were brought to the College of

Education by the researcher. They were taken to a room

containing a videotape apparatus, toys and games, and a

writing corner with a small table and four chairs. The

children usually brought their lunch.

Each of the 16 videotaped sessions began with the

children sitting at the small table with the researcher.

The focus of all these composing episodes was the genera-

tion of meaningful communication. Each product, rather

than being evaluated and kept by the researcher, was to

be delivered to the person for whom it was intended. The

course of the composing activities was not charted in

advance, nor were the materials used. Each session was

guided by the observation, analysis, and questions raised

in the previous sessions. The sessions which emerged

through this process were as follows:

Episode 1--Introduction, exploration of materials.

The children were introduced to the format, the room, and

the notion of composing together with the researcher at

the table. No structured activity was proposed for this

first session. The children were allowed to freely inter-

act with the materials and each other. (35 minutes)

Episode 2--Making Halloween cards. Each child was

given a specific composing task of making a greeting card

for anyone he/she wished. The children were taped

individually with the researcher. It was decided at

this juncture to allow the children to compose as a

group of three to see if more data would be generated.

(30 minutes)

Episode 3--Making placecards. The children composed

as a group and made placecards for those who would be

attending their Thanksgiving dinners. (1 hour 20 minutes)

Episode 4--Writing letters. The children composed

letters to leave for Santa when he came on Christmas eve.

(60 minutes)

Episode 5--Composing a story. The children were

encouraged to write and draw a story of their choice.

(40 minutes)

Episode 6--Making Christmas gifts. The children

drew and wrote messages that were put into plastic holders

and given as placemats to the person of their choice as a

Christmas present. (55 minutes)

Episode 7--Making greeting cards. The children made

Valentine cards for each other. (35 minutes)

Episode 8--Making greeting cards. The children made

Valentine cards for family members. (45 minutes)

Episode 9--Making a book. The children made a

collaborative book about Terry's birthday party, which

they had all attended. (45 minutes)

Episode 10--Making a book.

individual book of their choice.

The children each made an

(40 minutes)

Episode 11--Making greeting cards. The children made

Easter cards for the person of their choice. (40 minutes)

Episode 12--Making greeting cards. By request, the

children made additional Easter cards for the person of

their choice. (50 minutes)

Episode 13--Making greeting cards. The children made

Easter cards for each other. (55 minutes)

Episode 14--Making a book. The children made indi-

vidual books of their own choice. (45 minutes)

Episode 15--Writing a letter.

The children composed

a letter to someone of their choice. (60 minutes)

Episode 16--Making greeting cards. The children made

Mother's Day cards for their mothers and grandmothers.

(50 minutes)

Sessions began with the researcher proposing the day's

activity and then having each child state the message he/she

wished to convey. The children dictated and the researcher

wrote the intended communication. The product was then

given to the child to "finish the message--writing or

drawing--any way you wish." In later sessions the children

asked to write parts of their messages independently. For

the last session the dictated messages were written on

cards for the children to copy.

The children composed in this manner for a minimum

of 45 minutes a session. The researcher was present at

the table during the entire process. Verbal interaction

was encouraged among the participants. The children,

almost without exception, had to be urged to stop at the

end of the allotted time.

At the termination of each session a short discussion

was held concerning the day's activities. The children

then ate their lunch and, if time permitted, played with

the toys in the room. The researcher then drove the

children home for naps.

Early sessions indicated far more generation of data

and time on task in a group of three than when each child

was composing alone. The children's verbal interaction

was a primary source of the evidences of graphic linguistic

awareness. Taping three children simultaneously created

a more social and less test-like atmosphere. A further

reason for taping in a small group was because so many

children (ages 3 and 4) are in school settings for part

of the day that the composing process on tape would more

closely resemble possible composing activities outside

the research setting.

Role of the Researcher in Episodes

The researcher's active role in the study was both

directive and responsive. It was directive in the sense

that the composing episodes were carefully structured and

tasks were explicit for each session. The children were

guided in their compositions and were apprised of the

format in which they were to operate.

The researcher was responsive to the children's oral

and graphic language. She encouraged them to verbalize

as they composed and refrained from criticizing or judging

their efforts. Socialization and interaction were at the

core of the study and an atmosphere conducive to these was


The researcher was present throughout the sessions

and endeavored to make each episode a positive experience

for the children. She incorporated their suggestions into

the study and utilized their emergent behavior in directing

the course of the composing sessions. The researcher's

participation in the episodes is further discussed in

Chapter VI.

Data Collection and Analysis

In an effort to make the methodology match the study

(Wilson, 1977), the approach to the collection and analysis

of data used in this study was multi-faceted. The time

for composing process research appears to be ripe, but

Graves (1980) cautions against a fragmentary approach.

This investigation is ethnographic in orientation, in that

the context of the composing episode is of major importance.

Employed also are techniques of case study research--extended

observations over time and large amounts of in-depth

anecdotal records. The researcher was also a factor in

the research setting, invoking the tenets of participant

observation. Traditional research methodology was utilized

in the forms of structured episodes and activities and a

laboratory-like setting. These methods, though somewhat

diverse, contributed to a global picture of the children's

ventures into the composing process and the resultant

graphic linguistic awareness they evidenced.

Each of the 16 episodes was videotaped in its

entirety (except when the equipment malfunctioned or

the children's desire to compose outlasted the supply of

tape). The researcher kept additional field notes during

the actual sessions in order to pick up nonverbal infor-

mation the tape may have missed. In addition, the chil-

dren were very young and very eager to verbalize and

often the tapes are characterized by all the children

talking at once. Each tape was reviewed shortly after

the session, so the researcher could add pertinent comments

to the analysis. Since the products were actually

delivered, notes were kept on unique features of composi-

tion that may not have shown up on tape.

Every tape was considered in a variety of ways.

First, the composing episodes were looked at across the

three children. Features common to the children's

processes were noted as were emergent patterns and

sequences of behavior. Each episode was discussed in

light of the activity it generated, unique variables that

were in evidence, and tentative conclusions and questions

that guided future sessions.

Next, each child's composing behaviors were extracted

in the descriptive narrative form of a case study. This

technique yielded individual profiles of Terry, Laurel,

and Amy as composers.

Graphic linguistic awareness was analyzed in two

different ways. First, evidences of graphic linguistic

awareness were recorded from each tape. From these data

a chart was constructed in order to graphically represent

each child's progression in graphic linguistic awareness.

Categorization for charting emerged from the episodes

themselves and was fluid in design, not being complete

until the last tape was analyzed. This charting, over a

6 month period of time, was intended to give insight into

and further operationally define the term graphic

linguistic awareness.

In addition, Terry, Laurel, and Amy used a variety

of terms to discuss their graphic representation. All of

the children utilized the terms "draw," "write," "make,"

"do," and "spell" at one time or another. Since children

ages 2-4 often give verbal clues to their thoughts and

concept formation, charting these expressions and the

accompanying behavior was seen as a viable analysis of

graphic linguistic awareness.


The above analytic procedures were then drawn together

in an effort to formulate tentative conclusions and lay the

groundwork for future research.


1. The participants in this study were observed in a lab-

oratory-type setting and were videotaped. Although the

children were very young and did not appear to be af-

fected, the artificiality of the environment may have

had an effect. Comments like Amy's "Oh, the camera fell

down; is this how you spell 'happy'?" lead the researcher

to believe the distortion in behavior was minimal.

2. The children in the study were chosen by the researcher

because of their accessibility, familiarity with the

researcher and verbal skills. Their behavior does not

necessarily typify other children's progress through

the composing episodes.

3. No factor was built into the design to control for ob-

server bias aside from the researcher's experience in

research methodology and in experimental studies with

young children.

4. Frequency counts of the occurrences of elements of

graphic linguistic awareness were, at times, subjective.

When children verbalized an element, each verbalization

was counted, even if it was repetitive. If the children

expressed an element graphically (i.e., colored in the

letters of the message), one tally was given for the en-

tire operation. This system of quantification was con-

sistent throughout the study.


The composing processes of the children will be

considered in 2 ways. First, the composing behaviors of

the three children as a group as they progressed through

the structured composing episodes of the study will be

investigated. Then, the composing processes of the

individual child will be discussed and a profile of each

child as a composer will be created. The participants

in the episodes were Terry (T), age 46 months; Laurel (L),

age 35 months; Amy (A), age 50 months; and Nancye (N), the


Episode 1--Exploration of Materials

The initial composing episode was held in the middle

of September. Its central purpose was to familiarize the

children with the room, the writing area, and the process

of composing with the researcher. An additional function

of the session was for the researcher to set the tone for

future meetings. Verbalization and interaction were en-

couraged and initiated by the researcher. The children

were commended on their efforts and questioned about their

products and processes in the hope of introducing them to

the style of verbal discourse while composing. Since the

researcher knew the children and their families prior to

the study, talk of a personal nature was in evidence. This

was not discouraged. Verbal interaction of any kind was


The children adjusted effortlessly to the research

situation. All were eager to come together and very in-

terested in using the materials that were on the writing


No particular task or activity was presented at this

first session. The children were provided with a stack of

white drawing paper and a box of large felt tip markers.

They were encouraged to write or draw as they wished.

The markers were brand new and each had a distinc-

tive fragrance. The children spent a good deal of time

discussing them, experimenting, and changing colors.

Each child was very interested in what the others

were doing. They all frequently looked at each other's

papers, remarked on what was taking place, and often

borrowed or embellished on an idea. A spirit of free

interaction and cooperation prevailed.

A: (shows picture) This is a happy face .
this is a design . this is a person . .
T: (to N) Can you make me a people?
N: This is for you to draw.
A: I can make you a people.
T: Okay.

Very little writing occurred aside from the children's

attempts to write their own names. Letters did emerge in

the drawings, however. The children remarked on some of

these; on others they did not. Often the character of the

composition changed as it was being created.

T: Hey, she's making her own name. Hey,
Amy, I can make my own name. (T begins
to make T, turns it into a A)
N: What's that?
T: A tent.
L: A triangle.
N: A triangle and a tent, too.
T: A Christmas tree.

The children were anxious to show their compositions

to the researcher and to each other. When one child said,

"Look what I made" the others would turn their attention

as directed.

L: See this fish! (A & T lean over to see)
That's the eye and that's the beak and
that's the tail and the head.

The children verbalized freely in their precomposing

phase often orally planning what would come next in the

composing stage.

T: Hey, you know what I can make? I can
make . I can make . You know what
I'm going to make, Mom? A something .
A man.

Much more drawing activity was in evidence than

writing activity, perhaps because the large size markers

were thought of more as a tool for drawing, or because

no specific purpose for communication was offered as a

reason for composing. A purposeful activity might have

generated more writing-type representation.

The session lasted approximately 30 minutes. The

children seemed pleased with the day's activities and with

each other. All asked when they could come back.

Episode 2--Halloween Cards

In this session, each child was observed composing

individually with the researcher. A specific activity was

offered: making Halloween cards for the person of choice.

The children were eager to get together and before com-

posing spent some time playing with the toys in the room.

The children took turns entering the writing area

with the researcher. Laurel elected not to participate in

this session. She had wanted to compose while Terry was

so engaged, but was turned away and asked to wait her turn.

By the time it was her turn, the moment had passed.

In their individual sessions with the researcher, both

Terry and Amy were anxious to write/draw, but also wanted

to be with the other two children who were outside the

writing area. The verbal interaction was not nearly as

rich as it had been in session one where all three chil-

dren composed together.

The episode began with a short discussion of the up-

coming holiday, Halloween, and the notion of sending a card

to someone. Both the children were familiar with the con-

cept of greeting cards and had someone in mind with whom

they wished to communicate.

The researcher used this session to set the tone for

the ones to follow. (Although Laurel did not directly

participate, she was in and out of the composing area

enough to know what was going on.) After deciding to whom

the card would be sent, the child dictated and the re-

searcher wrote the appropriate message. The avenue of

communication had to be directed.

N: Okay, how about if I write . .
T: A witch!
N: How about if I write "Dear Grandma . ."

The children then completed the dictation by relating the

messages they wished to convey. The cards were then signed

with "Love," followed by the child's name.

Terry and Amy leaned over and carefully watched as the

researcher wrote. Materials used for this session were

large felt tip markers and large white or colored paper

folded like a card.

The children were very anxious to take a marker and

begin composing. All the graphic representation on the

cards was the product of drawing. No writing, mock letters

or emergent letters were in evidence, perhaps because the

large size markers suggested drawing rather than writing.

All the representations, however, were pertinent to Hallo-

ween. The children were clearly excited about the upcoming

holiday and enjoyed drawing scores of pumpkins, witches'

hats, etc.

The researcher tried the technique Graves (1978) used

so successfully with older children of encouraging the

child to talk about his/her finished composition. Ques-

tions like "What will Grandma like best about your card?"

were unproductive for the most part with Terry and Amy.

With children of this young age, the direct metalinguistic

question (Sulzby, 1979) was also of little use. Few

meaningful verbal responses were generated, perhaps due to

the children's egocentricity and inability to decenter.

The children did exhibit an ability to recognize

their names:

N: Would you like to try your name?
T: Well, you already writed my name (points
correctly to name on card).

and to appreciate the concept of communication:

N: I love your picture. Do you like it?
A: Yeah, 'cause it says (points to written
message, touches words as she talks,
goes left to right) Amy. I love you.
Happy Halloween (points to words out of
order, but touches Amy correctly;
smiles at N).

Several aspects of this episode directed future

composing sessions:

(1) It was decided to have the children compose as

a group. No one would be turned away or have

to take turns, and group sessions, moreover,

would foster valuable verbal interaction.

(2) Since the children's names appeared to be

highly motivating, it was decided to make names

the focus of the next activity.

(3) Utensils other than large markers would be used

to see if more writing-type composing would be


Episode 3--Thanksgiving Placecards

Terry, Laurel, Amy, and Nancye (the researcher) all

gathered around the small table upon which the materials

were displayed. The children were pleased to be sitting

down together. A discussion of the upcoming holiday of

Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving dinner followed. The chil-

dren were eager to share who was coming to their houses,

what would be served, etc. The researcher then suggested

that they make placecards to be used at Thanksgiving dinner,

i.e., a card with each person's name on it that would be

put at his/her own place at the table.

Four by 6 unlined index cards were folded so they

would stand up. Utensils offered to the children were

thin (pencil sized) felt tip markers of assorted colors.

The researcher began the composing activity by stating

that she would write the desired name on the card and the

children would finish the card by writing and drawing as

they wished. The children were anxious to get started,

and it was decided that they would begin with their own


The task appeared to be of interest to the children

and a great deal of verbalization was generated relating

to the composing that was taking place. The

researcher always verbalized what she was writing

as she wrote. The children leaned over and closely

watched as the researcher wrote each name, prompting,

evaluating, and commenting as she was printing.

N: (writing for Laurel) I'll put it right up
there. L . .
L: A . (watching N; T & A lean way over to
N: (writing) A . .
A: She has an A, just like me!

This activity definitely engendered more writing

type activity than those previously proposed. All the

children engaged in scribbling and writing. They also

did some mock writing (Clay, 1975) making wave like marks

across the page, left to right, and termed it writing.

The children continually showed their accomplishments

to the researcher and to each other. This sharing seemed

to serve multiple purposes. The children were anxious to

interact, to socialize, and to gain approval for their

efforts. Also, showing and sharing seemed to give credence

to their attempts at graphic communication and to reaffirm

their emerging composing competence and graphic linguistic


L: (holding up her card) What is that, Terry?
N: (to T) Laurel's asking you a question.
T: An i.
L: (smiling) Yeeeesssssss! (A looks up, all smile)

Composing in a group situation enabled the children to

make discoveries about their graphic representation and en-

abled the researcher to draw conclusions about their graphic

linguistic awareness.

N: (writing for T) Let's see . Daddy is . .
capital D . .
T: (watching closely) D . .
N: (writes and spells) a . d . d
and .
T: y.
N: y.
L: (looks at card, excited) Well, that's how I
write my daddy's name!
A: (looks over) Hey, a y is in the end of my name
and it's in his name.

The fact that graphic representation is used as

communication was apparent as the children progressed in

this activity. They were clearly aware of their audience.

A: Can I have it for all my family?
N: Sure.
A: Okay. This is going to be for my dad. Oh,
yeah, this is going to be for my mom and this
is going to be for my daddy--and then Kathleen,
and then Maureen, and then Megan.

The children enjoyed tracing over the letters the

researcher had made and then coloring them in. It was

postulated that this coloring in was done for a number of

reasons. It seemed to reaffirm the child's developing

awareness of print. It also seemed that coloring in made

the product pretty, served to finish or complete the

message, and provided a break or rest from the actual

generation of graphic representation.

Individual composing styles began to emerge. Laurel

spent the entire session completing one card, while Amy

finished four and Terry sped through ten.

The children seemed to use verbal interaction to take

a break from the activity of composing. They would leave

their task briefly, converse with the researcher or with

each other, and then resume composing.

A: (gets up and walks over to N) I want to tell
you something. You have dark black hair.
N: Yes, I do. And nobody in your family has black
hair, do they? (L is working and T is standing
up working)
A: Everyone almost has brown hair.
N: Yes.
A: (returning to chair) But my mommy doesn't have
that short hair anymore.
N: No.
A: I don't even know what her hair looks like. I
forget everytime I leave. (A & N laugh)

This session was a long one (1 hour and 20 minutes)

but the children were reluctant to leave at that.

N: Now, we have to get going, in a few minutes.
T: I only need Nana and Gus and Grandma and
N: All right. Why don't we . you can do
one more and then we'll stop. How about
A: But I want to do my whole family.

The researcher provided the children extra cards to

take home and finish. They asserted that they had

adequate pens at home.

As anticipated the 3 children enjoyed being together.

Small group composing was infinitely more productive than

individual effort, both in drawing/writing and in graphic

linguistic awareness.

The small markers were more successful in producing

writing-type representation. Only one marker of each

color was available, however. The children frequently

had to wait for the desired color and talk tended to

center around this rather than the composing process. In

future sessions, more markers would be provided.

The purposeful nature of the communication in the

session was very worthwhile. Names as a focal point of

activity were highly motivating.

The children were pleased with themselves after this

session. Terry, Laurel, and Amy all used their placecards

at Thanksgiving dinner. All 3 also asked to return to the

university before the next scheduled session.

Episode 4--Letters to Santa

Since the Christmas season was approaching, it was

decided to capitalize on the interest of the children in

the holiday season. It was further decided to maintain

the group format, utilize purposeful communication, and

provide more writing utensils.

The story "The Night Before Christmas" was read to

introduce the activity. Rather than write a list of "I

wants" to Santa, in this session the children wrote a

card to leave for Santa when he visited on Christmas eve.

The children were very enthusiastic about the story, the

activity, and the approach of Christmas.

Materials provided in this session were white drawing

paper folded like a card, small markers (more than one of

each color) and the large "fragrance" markers.

Once again, the session began with the children dic-

tating and the researcher writing the message. Terry,

Laurel, and Amy all paced their dictation from the onset

of the study and watched carefully as the message was written.

All the children began their dictation with "Dear

Santa" and clearly were aware of the purpose of their


N: (writing) Dear . Santa . what would
you like me to say to Santa?
T: O.K. That . '"I'm going to write your
(Santa's) name."

They also brought out the idea that receiving this

communication would bring pleasure.

L: Boy, will he (Santa) be happy!

Once again, the children shared their efforts with

the others present and talked about what they saW in other's

drawing and writing. Often they challenged what they saw

on the other child's card.

L: Look at my L. (T leans over to look)
N: Let me see.
T: What is the owl?
N: An L. That's a good one.
T: No, it's a V, you silly.
L: It's an L.
T: That is a V.
N: Well, look at it the way Laurel's looking
at it.

This challenging and the answering of the challenge served

as a verbal affirmation of the children's graphic linguistic

awareness and their ability to compose. They did not get

angry or hurt, but seemed to play their emerging con-

ceptualizations off one another. Verbal interchange of

this type was both important to the children's sense of

self-as-composer and revealing to the researcher.

Praise was also a factor in the children's interaction.

Praise from the researcher was one thing, but praise from a

peer offered a new dimension to the composing episode. At

one point, Terry had been trying desperately to write all

the letters in Santa's name. It was very difficult for him

and he worked very hard for an extended period of time.

Laurel watched the process intently and when Terry finally

completed his effort, she shouted, "There! There!" Terry

smiled and held up his card to show the others. "There.

I writed Santa's name." Laurel was as pleased as Terry


From time to time the children exhibited a degree of

frustration in not being able to produce a symbol the way

they wanted. The atmosphere of freedom to exchange ideas

and to help each other seemed to minimize the frustration

and helped the children achieve their goal.

T: Aaaaaggggghhh. (makes a pounding motion with
his fists)
A: What are you trying to make, Terry?
T: Santa's name; I can't cause I did a wrong . .
wrong . Mom, can you write a other S?
N: Where would you like me to put it?
T: Here! (N writes for T)
L: There.
N: There you go.
T: Thank you.

Assistance seems to help children make transitions

and facilitates the acquisition of skills. If assistance

is not given, the urge to communicate is thwarted and the

frustration is magnified. In another situation, Terry

might have torn up his paper or refused to complete the


The children also felt free to request and give help

to another.

T: Hey, Amy, can you write an S for me?
A: What kind of an S? You mean a snake letter?
N: A snake letter is called an S.
A: Oh. (writes on T's card)

This session revealed 2 general themes. One was the

concept that graphic messages make someone happy. The other

was a noticeable interest in the alphabet. Much of the time

was spent in experimentation with and talking about letters.

Also, for the first time, the concept of "spell" emerged.

L: I made a T . for Terry! (T looks)
N: Well, you made a T, didn't you? Is that the T
you made out of dots?
L: Yeah.
N: Very nice, Laurel.
A: Know what my mommy said? "Will you spell Terry's
name for me?" I spelled it without her telling

Again, names (Terry, Laurel, Amy and Santa) were

highly motivating and the focus of most of the writing

and graphic linguistic awareness that took place.

This activity lasted approximately 60 minutes and

ended with the researcher saying time was short and the

children had to finish up. The time these children

willingly spent interacting with the materials and with

each other was impressive. Also impressive was the time

spent smiling and verbalizing about the composing

activities. The children expressed a real desire to

communicate and a confidence in their ability to do so.

Episode 5--Individual Stories

The activity proposed in this session differed from

the previous 2. As seen in the last 2 episodes, the

children were clearly aware of the purpose of written

communication when it was in the form of a greeting card

or placecard. The children maintained the concept of an

immediate audience throughout this type of activity and

the composition was appropriate and meaningful. Also the

graphic linguistic awareness generated was plentiful and


Therefore, the children were given an opportunity

to participate in an activity more typically found in a

preschool situation. The only guidance the children were

given was to draw and/or write something that told a story.

They were told that after they finished, the stories they

composed would be shared. No dictating or writing by the

researcher began the episode.

The materials available on the table were large white

drawing paper, pencils, small felt tip markers, and crayons.

From the beginning, the session was strikingly different

both in the nature of the composing activities and in the

evidence of graphic linguistic awareness.

No purpose was given to the children for the com-

position and no audience was named. The children spent

longer periods of time than before silently working. This

was perhaps due to the nature of the activity or because

the researcher was not at the writing table as much as she

had been previously. The equipment was malfunctioning and

occupying the attention of the researcher. The distractions

were numerous (perhaps as they would be in a preschool

situation), but the children appeared not to be concerned.

They remained on task for the entire session of 40 minutes.

Much more drawing than writing was evident in the

compositions. The researcher had not introduced the

activity with writing nor modeled any writing behavior.

Still the children were interested in each other's papers

and felt free to comment on what they saw.

T: (leaning over and looking at A's paper)
You make interesting things.

It was clear, however, that the children were not

writing or drawing a story purposefully.

N: Terry, can you tell us the story that goes
with that picture?
T: (quietly) I'm not thinking. I'm drawing it.

Their drawing was a means of communication. It was not a

story, but it was a means of communicating their ideas

and of interacting with each other and the researcher.

Prodding the children to talk about their story and

what they were drawing was unproductive.

N: (to A) What is it you're making?
A: You'll see.
N: Pardon me?
A: You'll see.
N: I'll see. Okay.
T: Mom, let me write what I'm making.

The children finished their drawing and then made up

a story, probably to please the researcher. They seemed

to know the concept of a story and included elements of

their composing into the story.

T: I'm all finished to tell the story.
N: Okay.
T: Once upon a time there was a N . .
(there's an N in his picture)
N: A letter N?
T: Yes. Who got a cold from the wind
and the sun . (there's a sun in
the picture, too)
N: From the wind and the sun.
T: He has a cough.

The stories were clearly not preplanned. The concept

that an oral story could be written was in evidence, how-


L: Know . know what? I have a story
to this. Want me to write it?
N: Yes, I do.
L: But I'll tell it to you in just a .
(begins to write letters at the top of
N: Look at you writing a story. Isn't that

The children appeared to enjoy this activity and once

again had to be asked to stop at the end of the allotted

time. However, the verbalization of graphic linguistic

awareness was much less than previously noted and the

compositions were not as filled with writing-like symbols.

It appears that when the audience is immediate and the

communication is purposeful, more writing appears in addi-

tion to drawing. When those two conditions do not exist,

drawing predominates and verbal interaction concerning the

compositions decreases. Future sessions were formulated

with these differences in mind with an eye toward curricu-

lar implications that might arise out of the study.

Episode 6--Christmas Placemats

This was the last session held before Christmas.

The children composed a message for a family member. The

message was then placed inside a clear plastic envelope

and used as a placemat. The researcher brought wrapping

paper, ribbon, and gift tags as well.

The children were filled with the spirit of Christmas

and were very anxious to participate in this activity.

The episode began with the children deciding for whom

the message was intended and then dictating to the


Once again the purposeful aspect of the communica-

tion and the awareness of audience was in evidence.

N: (to T) What should I say? Dear . .
T: Mommy.
N: (writes) Dear . Mommy . .
T: And . say to Mommy . Christmas is
coming and I hope you have a very nice

More graphic linguistic awareness was generated than

had been in the previous session, though not as much as in

the greeting cards or placecard sessions. The size and

orientation of the paper used might have been a factor.

Paper used by adults for personal communication is most

often small and folded.

Coloring in of the letters was once again an activity

in which the children engaged.

L: I'm coloring in.
N: Coloring in. What are you coloring in?
L: O's.
N: Coloring in O's.
L: All the marks that you see--you color them
in and it will be a beautiful picture.

The children may have used mock words to facilitate

the transition from their ability to make isolated letters

into their ability to spell. Again it seemed that using

verbal communication made this transition more within


A: (has written a border of letters on her page;
reads and points to letter, one word per
letter) That says "I wish that," I mean,
where's the I . I don't know . .
there's an I . two I's . (reading)
I . I . I . .
L: (prompting) I wish that . .
A: (reading and pointing) I . I . I .
wish . wish . that . Megan . .
would . not . get . into . my
. e . mark . der . der.

All the children were quite interested in pursuing

this new behavior and wanted to experiment with it. It

was revealing to the researcher in the amount of graphic

linguistic awareness expressed.

N: Terry, what were you going to tell me?
T: First let me write it. (reading) Okay . .
I . wish Mommy wouldn't die because
I will cry and Daddy will . and Daddy
was on a trip.
N: And that's what it says?
T: Un huh.
N: I see. And what are these right here?
L: That's . .
T: Those are the words.

N: Those are the words you wrote.
T: Yeah.
N: What is this word?
T: It's a T.
L: I can make a T.

The children focused a good deal of their attention

on the making of alphabet letters. It was interesting to

note that alphabet letters were used in a kind of graphic

play. They were discussed, interpreted, and their function

or role changed at will.

T: Mom, look at my colored B.
N: (laughs) A big colored B. Very good.
L: It's a bow. It's a bow.
N: A boat.
A&L: A bow!
N: A bow. Oh, you think Terry's B looks like a bow.
L: Yes.
N: You were looking at it sideways . .
T: B starts with bow.
N: He's right, isn't he?
L: Yes.
N: B starts the word bow. Pretty good. So it's
a bow and a B at the same time.
L: B for bat.
T: It's not a bow.
N: It's not a bow anymore, Terry?
T: Huh uh.

This play with graphic symbols seems a particularly

meaningful experience in the child's acquisition of graphic

linguistic awareness and of composing skills. The children

are able to, through interaction with print and with each

other, adopt the posture of a writer. Verbal interaction

allows them to define, explain and defend their play with

graphic representation and reaffirm the communication that

is its function. The children were very accepting of the

graphic play of each other and were sincerely interested

in the efforts the others displayed. Each child was seen

as a credible composer and what each child wrote/drew/

dictated was meaningful. The children really cared.

Episode 7--Valentine Cards

After a break of about a month due to scheduling

problems, the sessions resumed in early February. Despite

efforts to get all 3 children together once again, Amy was

unavailable for this session due to minor surgery. Taping

the two children was continued to note the differences

(if any) between composing sessions with 2 and with 3


Valentine's Day was the focus of the children's activity.

Terry and Laurel were glad to see each other once again and,

upon entering the room, went immediately to the writing

area and asked to begin. Materials used for this session

were thin felt tip markers and white 8-1/2 by 11 paper that

had been glued onto red construction paper.

A short discussion of Valentine's Day and greeting

cards began the episode, which really needed no introduction.

The researcher began by taking dictation from each child.

The children elected to make their Valentines for each other.

This session was characterized by a great deal of

smiling, humor, and obvious good feelings. Once again the

children were very interested in watching the researcher

write the message.

N: (to L) Who's your Valentine going to be
L: It'll be for Terry. (T smiles)
N: (writes) Dear . Terry . (T & L
watch; L looks at T, both smile) . .
and what would you like me to say?
L: I hope you have a nice day. (T smiles)
N: I hope . you . have . .
a . nice . day. (both T & L lean
over to watch)
L: (dictating) When we're finished with the
markers, put the tops on (looks at N and
N: (writes) When . (N & L laugh; T smiles)
silly goose! When . we're . finished
. with . the . markers . .
comma . put . the . tops . .
on. (T & L are watching) . Love . .
Laurel (both lean way over, presumably to
see name written).

The children obviously possessed the concept that they

were communicating and their awareness of an immediate

audience was expressed throughout. This was apparent in

their use of the sign concept in composing their message.

N: (to L) What are those?
L: (looks up, has written XXXX 0000) Hugs 'n
kisses for Terry. (smiles)
N: Oh, Terry. X's and O's are hugs and kisses
from Laurel. (T looks, smiles) That's a
nice thing to send on a Valentine's card.
L: (pointing) See, these are hugs; see these
are hugs . .
N: Those are hugs . .
L: Yes, and these are kisses.
T: (smiling, leaning over) Are the X's are
L: Ummmmm.
T: (drawing circles) These are hugs and
tickles! (N,T,L laugh)

The children repeated their previous inclination to

trace over and color in the letters of the written message.

Terry traced the words in the message, out of order, but

always completed each word left to right. Coloring in

behavior had continued for quite some time and had endured

even though the tone of the composing behaviors had changed.

This pattern may continue as a pleasurable and consistent

reaffirmation of print awareness. Or it may have been simply

the children's desire to make print more like the pictures

they were more familiar with.

The children also continued showing and sharing their

cards with each other and the researcher. In this session,

however, it seemed as though the focal point of this

sharing shifted somewhat from the researcher to the other


T: Laurel. Laurel.
L: What?
T: These are bees.
L: Bees?
N: Bees on the back of your Valentine card,
L: And some up front.
T: No bees on front.
L: Where? I mean these (points).
T: Those are . those are just spots.
L: Oh. (T & L laugh)

This session marked two changes in Terry's process

of composing. First, he held his pen correctly. Laurel

and Amy had been holding their utensils appropriately from

the beginning, but Terry had held his like a paint brush.

Secondly, Terry worked the entire session on one

product just as Laurel did. Whether this was just a change

in his composing behavior or whether he was modeling some

of Laurel's behavior was unknown. The possibility for this

modeling to occur, if indeed that is what it was, may have

been more likely in a group of two than in the group of three.

This session was shorter than previous ones (35 minutes)

and was not as filled with verbalization of graphic linguis-

tic awareness. It was postulated that more desirable ver-

bal interaction occurs in a group of three and that the

compositions are more diverse and complex. However, the

session was a very productive one in viewing the obvious

affective component of the generation of purposeful communi-

cation for an immediate audience.

Episode 8--Valentine Cards

The three children came to this session displaying

the enthusiasm the researcher had come to expect at holi-

day time. This episode was taped on Valentine's Day and

the children were happy and eager to compose. Naturally,

the activity of the day was making Valentine cards. The

children decided to make their cards for mommy and daddy.

The materials offered for use in the session were

thin markers, pencils, Valentine stickers, and white paper

inside a red or pink folder. The children spent a great

deal of time during the course of the activity paying

attention to alphabel letters and word construction. They

asked more questions about the elements of the written

message than they had previously.

N: (writes for A) Dear . Mommy . .
and . Daddy . .
A: How come there's two D's?
N: Pardon me?
A: How come there's two D's?
N: Two D's in Daddy.
A: Oh.

N: D-a-d-d-y. Two little d's and a capital D.
A: I mean, these two D's. (points; T leans
over to see)
N: Dear starts with a D. And Daddy, too.
A: Oh.

Very definite attention was given to initial consonants

and their sounds.

L: This says God. God. (has written God)
N: Look what Laurel wrote. She wrote a word
(T looks) and it says God. (A looks) That's
very nice, honey.
T: Guh . guh . guh . .

The children also became involved in copying from

each other's papers. It was as though they were taking

their newly realized skills and, through the interaction

available in the composing situation, revealing and re-

fining them.

N: What did Amy write? Oh, you wrote God,
too, just like Laurel. (all look at A's
card; A smiles) And what's that?
A: (smiling) Love.
N: And you wrote "love." Isn't that good
writing. My goodness!
L: Now, I should copy hers. (writes L . .
o . v . e)
T: v . (watches closely)
L: e . I did too! (smiles)
T: Now I'm copying hers.

Spelling was demonstrated to be an emergent topic of

great interest. Oral spelling often preceded written

spelling and seemed to facilitate composing. The children

often planned, experimented, and rehearsed verbally, then

began to write.

A: I made Maureen.
N: You wrote your sister's name.
A: I don't know how to write Kathleen
N: That's a big name, isn't it?

A: I know. K-a-t . (looks at N)
N: H.
A: Yeah . h . .

Even when spelling skill was lacking, mock words were

appropriately created. These mock words were accepted as

legitimate composition.

T: Mom, look.
N: What is it, Terry?
T: It's a word. (smiles)
N: Can you tell me what word it is?
T: (has written AOUD) Hmmm . whale.
N: Those are good letters, Terry. (A, L look)
L: Now I'm going to write whale. (laughs)
T: Copy mine!
L: (copies Terry's word) A . 0 . U . D.

It was hypothesized that once again the interaction

among the children made possible a smooth transition into

a new area of skill acquisition. The children were

accepting and facilitating each other as composers.

Although new behaviors of initial consonant recogni-

tion, awareness of word construction, copying, and spelling

real and mock words were displayed throughout the session,

it was noted that these behaviors did not replace operations

previously observed. The children still colored in the

written message and traced the letters. They also displayed

the type of mock writing seen sessions before.

A: They're waves.
N: Waves. Oh, pretty.
A: But they're big waves (smiles).
T: Mine are bigger waves (starts to make
w<- c- .lines; L is watching).
L: Well, you know that I usually like to
color inside of the words.

The contrast in graphic representation seen in this

episode led the researcher to support Clay's (1975) con-

tention that children's writing development is not linear.

The children utilized a wide range of composing skills,

some evidenced for the first time and some which were

employed session after session.

The children worked steadily throughout the session

and were asked to draw their activities to a close after

40 minutes. They clearly took pride in their efforts,

realizing that they had worked hard and experimented with

some new skills. This session signaled a turning point

in the series of observations. The graphic communication

of the children acquired a sophistication not seen before

and the change in their behavior was dramatic.

Nowhere in the entire process had anyone criticized

or rejected their efforts at composing. Their audiences

were accepting, not critical; and their role of composer

was taking on new dimensions. All seemed to share Amy's

final evaluation of the day's activities.

A: (holding up her card) This looks cool!

Episode 9--Group Book

A few days after the videotaping of the last session,

Amy brought the researcher a book she had made at home.

She was very excited about it and took great pride in her

work. Amy's book was brought to the next composing episode

and used as an introduction to the activity.

Terry and Laurel expressed interest in the book as

Amy carefully shared it page by page. The researcher then

suggested that the children make a group book using as the

theme Terry's birthday party which they had all attended.

This session was observed with great interest in the

light of the changes in composing behaviors and graphic

linguistic awareness that had taken place in episode 8

(Valentine cards). The children were pleased to be writing

again and sat down at once, ready to proceed. They agreed

that making a book would be fine, but the tone of their

verbalization throughout the session was remarkably dif-

ferent from the preceding episode.

The children were reluctant in dictating their messages.

When they did come up with a sentence, they were very


T: I had some clowns at my birthday party.

L: There were some clowns at Terry's party.
(urged to go on) The clowns did tricks.

A: They do lots of tricks.

This form of imitation had been accepted in previous

sessions as appropriate messages for greeting cards. It

was even seen by the children as a form of flattery to

have their messages copied. But in this episode, the

researcher asked each child to tell about something

different at the party, the games, refreshments, etc.

After some urging, the children did produce a unique

message, but were detached and disinterested in doing so.

The children observed carefully as the researcher wrote,

and leaned over to pay particular attention as the author's

name was written on each page. There was much more

drawing than writing in this activity, though the pictures

bore little relation to the words on the page. Some mock

writing and reading did emerge as the session progressed.

T: Mom, I write a word. (has written ol ol ol 1o)
L: (leaning over to look) He!
T: Mom, I made . .
N: What is it, Terry?
T: A word.
N: What word did you make, Terry?
T: (sounding out) Ummm . 111 . umm
. lum.

Names continued to be of interest as they had been

in the past.

N: (to L) I see you wrote your name. (T looks
over) Very nice.
A: (spelling and writing) M . A . .
T: Now which one will I . I'm going to
use purple.
A: (after a time) There's Kathleen's and
Maureen's! (has written their names)
N: Oh, you're writing names. (T looks) Isn't
that good!

The children began to do some reading of the words

in their messages. They displayed more interest in this

type of activity than they had previously.

T: Mom, a j in mine, a j in mine.
A: A j right there in juice.
T: Yes. Juice. (reading)
N: Juice.
T: Juice.

The verbalization of their reading was an important

component of the composing process. It seemed to verify

and reinforce their ability to read print. The concept of

syllabication emerged in this try at oral reading.

N: (reading cover) Terry's birthday . .
T: Party.
N: Party. By .
T: (pointing) Ter . ry.
N: No. Terry, . .
T: Chil . (the first syllable of his
last name)
N: Laurel, . .
T: Laurel . .
N: And . .
T: Amy.
N: That's right.

This session, which lasted 45 minutes, was a success

as far as the children were concerned. They eagerly shared

their efforts with Laurel's mother at the end of the com-

posing episodes. Although many of the elements of pre-

vious sessions were displayed, they were not as abundant

or as intricate.

Although the activity of making a book did have an

orientation that had meaning for the children, the audience

was not immediate nor even apparent. The children did not

make a commitment to this activity as they had in the

past. The book was a group project, not a personal message,

which may have made a difference as well. This contrast

was to be the theme of the next session.

Episode 10--Individual Books

In the previous session, the children all made a book

together. The children were pleased with this effort and

all subsequently made books at home. In order to investi-

gate the effect of a group vs. individual project on the

composing process and graphic linguistic awareness, this

session was devoted to having each child make his/her own


Laurel wanted to write a book telling someone about

the weekly composing sessions. Terry wanted to make a

book about colors. Amy was absent due to a special event

at her school.

Materials available were thin felt tip markers,

pencils, 8-1/2 by 11 white paper, and construction paper

for book covers. The tape malfunctioned shortly after

the session began, so field notes were taken.

For the first time in the series of composing episodes,

the researcher was asked to relinquish some of her duties

as scribe.

N: Okay, Laurel, how about if I write yours
first. What would you like to say?
L: A book about Terry and Amy drawing. Can
I write it, please?
N: You're going to write it?
L: Uh huh.
N: Sure.

Both Terry and Laurel began by writing letters at the

top left hand corner of their pages and wrote left to


T: (looking at L) I want to write my own. (N
hands him pen; T smiles, works)
N: Terry, can you tell me what it is you're
writing? (L leans over to look) My, my.
Look at that.
T: (reads) O-U-O-I-O-P-O-O-I-C
N: You wrote all those letters.
T: Yes, I wrote a lot of O's.
N: A lot of O's.
T: Yes. (smiling)
N: This is your page about purple for your

T: Uh huh.
L: (looks at T's page) O-B-O-B-0-B-O-B.

The children were pleased with their efforts and

continued composing in this mode.

L: (writing and singing letters) P-E-O-E-H. And
that's all I can think of in my story.
T: (wrote P-O-P-O-V-O-I-O) Mom, I writed a long

The children spent nearly the entire session of 40

minutes writing letters and mock words. The orientation

of the activity was clearly more toward writing than


L: (tracing and coloring in letters she had
previously made) This is a curious A.
N: (laughs) A curious A. (T leans over to look)
L: (to T) Curious A, right? (all laugh)

The children, at their own initiation, were performing

the function that the researcher had previously done.

Before they had traced, colored, and copied the message

that the researcher had written. In this session, they

wrote the primary message.

The original topics of their books were not mentioned

after the initial discussion. The children did a great

deal of playing with letters on paper. They saw this

graphic play as legitimate composing and engaged in it

for an extended period of time.

The session was very productive but, again, somewhat

lacking in the stimulation that is present when the three

children compose together. Making a book was once more not

as facilitative of the notion of composing as communicating

through a personal letter or greeting card.

Episode 11--Easter Cards

Since the previous two sessions were devoted to making

books, this session centered around a more personal mode

of communication. Easter was some distance in the future

but the children were already talking about it, so Easter

cards became the topic for the day. The children were

encouraged to compose a card for the person of their choice.

Materials available were construction paper, thin markers,

and pencils.

The episode began with the children dictating and the

researcher writing. The children waited their turn

patiently, as the researcher wrote for the others. They

all paced their dictation and watched as the researcher

wrote the message.

The children practiced their reading skills again,

picking up details in word construction.

L: (dictating) Dear Mom . .
N: (writes and spells) M . o . m.
A: (looks over) Oh, I'm talking about M-o-m-m-y.

This activity had an obvious, immediate audience

that was mentioned throughout.

A: Can we do three?
N: As many as we have time for.
A: 'Cause I just thought about Mommy,
Daddy, Maureen.
T: Mom, I'm going to do a lot of Easters
for my brothers.

The children made a personal commitment to their composing.

The children's growing awareness of the conventions

of print was evident in their spelling of words, reading,

and self-correction in writing that had not been observed

before. Children spelled words aloud as they wrote them.

N: What did you write, Amy?
A: M-o-m-m-yI (smiles)
(points with pencil) Wait. M-o-m-y!
Wait. Forgot something. (A erases
and writes again; L & T watch closely).
L: Are you going to do another m and then y?
A: Now. M-o-m-m-y.
L: (to N) She spelled Mom-my.
N: Yes,she did. You're right.
L: I spelled, I wanted Mom.

The children watched each other's efforts closely and

were not hesitant to challenge when they thought a mistake

was made.

A: (to N--big smile) I wrote Daddy!
N: You did, didn't you! (all look closely)
L: D-a-d-d-y.
A: No . (points) a-d-d-y.
T: (points to letter a) That's not a D, that's
an a.
A: (spells and points) D-a-d-d-y.
T: You said a.
A: No, I said D-a-d-d-y.
T: No, you said D . D . (A lifts paper
out of reach).

The children seemed to engage in this behavior as a

reaffirmation of their own graphic linguistic awareness.

They did not get angry with each other, but challenged and

defended frequently.

Once again, the researcher was relieved of some of

her duties.

A: (to N) Write Amy. Wait. You just have to
write Amy, okay? I'll write love. L-o-v-e.
N: Goodness me. Okay.

A: (spells and writes) L . o . .
L: Amy wrote!
A: (writes v) Will you help . how do you
make a v? I forget.
N: How do you make a v? You made one.
A: Oh, yeah. (writes e. Now has L-v-e on
paper) L-o-v-e (touching letters; scratches
out v-e, writes L-v-o-e) Now, L-o-v-e. Wait,
no. (laughs) I got mixed up. (scratches out,
writes correctly) L-o-v-e. Ho!

The children were very interested in each other's new

spelling behavior and gave positive feedback to the child

initiating the act. The children did not seem frustrated

by their mistakes, but worked hard until their message

was accurate. This process again pointed out the in-

adequacy of an evaluation of the finished product in

working with young children. A look at Amy's card would

have provided the observer with a card with a great deal

of illegible markings and the word love. No indication

of the complex process Amy went through could have been


The children verbalized a great deal in this session.

Their verbalization took the forms of planning, organizing,

spelling, sharing, evaluating, and unrelated chatter,

i.e., taking a break from their work. They also sang as

they composed.

All the children were composing for the same purpose,

and conveyed almost identical messages. The children were

operating at different levels of skill acquisition, but the

tone of the group was positive and the children interacted

as peers. The children utilized whatever behavior was at

their command and gained recognition and approval for their

efforts. They were accepting of individual learning styles

and personalities.

L: (coloring in letters of message)
I have a long while to go because I
don't do things fast.
N: You take your time.
L: I'll never get this done.
T: (coloring in his letters) I'll never get
this done, too. (all smile)

Socializing was seen as a vital component of both

graphic linguistic awareness and the composing process.

Episode 12--Easter Cards

The children expressed a desire at the end of the

previous session to make more cards for other family

members. Their interest was so great that Easter cards

became the activity for this episode as well. The

materials were the same, folded construction paper, large

felt tip markers, thin markers, and pencils.

Terry and Amy knew what the activity was to be in

advance and went directly to the writing area ready to

begin. Laurel was not present.

The children were clearly in charge of this session.

They approached the situation with an air of confidence

and knew exactly how they wanted it to run. The researcher

did not have to direct the activity, but was handed a pen

and told what to write and for whom. The children were

pleased with their control and authority and did not abuse


The children were very particular about the way their

messages were written. They watched intensely and made

certain it was correct.

N: Okay. It says Dear Kathleen. I like
Kathleen. Now what?
A: (dictating) The . Easter . .
bunny . wears . pink . .
N: (writes; T & A watch) The . Easter .
bunny . .
A: Bunny . wears . pink . .
T: Pink.
A: Now write white so it will be pink and
N: Pink and white.
A: Yes (laughs).
N: That bunny!
A: Did you write pink and white . or?
N: (points and reads) The-Easter-bunny-wears-
pink-and-white. Nothing else.
A: Oh. (T & A smile)

Terry and Amy again focused attention on the names of

family members as well as their own. Writing names correctly

was a continuing source of pride. They seemed to drill

themselves on their names over and over.

N: What are you smiling about, Terry?
A: (looks over at T's paper) Ter the Bear!
T: Terry!
N: He wrote his name, didn't you? (T looks at
his name, continues smiling)
A: But not little, big.

Tracing and then coloring in the letters of the

written message was evidenced once again. It seemed to

define the concept of space vs. print and was very care-

fully and routinely done. The children included this in

their verbal planning.

T: Know why I have two? (holds up two pens)
N: No.
T: 'Cause I'm going to color in.

The utensils were considered and utilized for particu-

lar purposes. Terry and Amy used the large markers for

drawing activity inside the card, but used the thin markers

for writing messages on the front of the card. Pencils

were not used at all.

A: Wanna see how little I can write my name?
(T watches closely) Wait . I can't do
it with this pen. I can do it with a
skinnier pen.
N: What is it you're doing?
A: Writing my name little because I can
write my name little.

Response to the researcher's being occupied with the

other child took a new form. In previous sessions, the

children would wait silently or begin a drawing activity

somewhere on their card other than in the place the re-

searcher wrote dictation. In this episode, Terry and Amy

displayed an attitude of "I can do it myself"--a further

indication of their increased confidence.

A: (to N) Could you spell Megan for me?
N: All right.
A: As soon as you do Terry's? (N is busy
getting Terry a new piece of paper,
helping him get settled)
N: (finally responds to A) Megan is . .
capital M . (T is having trouble
folding his card so N turns her attention
to him again)
A: (after a time) I can just write M. W. for
Megan's initials.

In a classroom setting, lack of teacher attention might

have led to more invented spellings than were found in

these sessions. With adult help and help from other chil-

dren so readily available, children rarely needed to invent


Even when the children were unable to write standard

messages (or chose not to), mock messages were written.

T: (to N) I want you to write. No, I
will write it. (T writes letters with
great concentration; reads) LLL . .
000 . LLL

The session ended with the children drawing silly

pictures of their Mommies on the inside of their cards.

There was a great deal of laughing and joking.

There was an indication that composing had evolved

into a two-step process. The children wrote very con-

scientiously for an extended period at the beginning of

the 50 minute session. Then they drew for the remainder

of the time with only an occasional mention of writing,

letters, or words.

The children ended the session themselves to eat

their lunches. They requested the same activity for the

next session.

Episode 13--Easter Cards

Having made Easter cards for others the two previous

weeks, the children decided that they would make cards for

the other members of the group. Materials available were

folded construction paper, thin markers, and pencils.

Once again, the children approached the task in a

business like manner. They clearly expressed their in-

tentions concerning what they would write and what the

researcher would write.

T: (takes pen from N) I can say Terry.
N: Well, all right.
T: (hands pen back) Love, you have to say.
L: I can say Laurel.
N: (to T) You want me to write love and
you'll write Terry.
A: Love. L-o-v-e.
L: Can I write I love you?
N: Of course.

The children continued their self-imposed drill of

writing names. The words "dear" and "love" were added

to the list of frequently practiced words.

L: What . (reading what T is writing)
Ter . Ter . Ter . .
N: (writing for A) Should I put love?
A: I'll put love.
T: Mom! (holds up card and smiles)
N: You did write your name, right under
love. Congratulations, Terry. That's
wonderful. Super duper. (T still
T: I just write it. Now I have to do it
all over again. (L leans over to watch)

The children took pleasure in spelling their names

while the other children wrote. This was a child initiated

process which gave the child spelling a sense of authority

and the writer immediate feedback.

A: Terry, how do you spell your name?
T: T-e-r-r-y.
A: T-e-r? (T nods) r? How do you make
a r?
T: You do it . (shows her)
A: Oh. (L is watching closely) Now what?
T: r . r . .
A: What comes after r?
T: y.
A: y. Terry. Now Amy. I already wrote
love right over here.

The children continued to challenge writing they

thought was incorrect.

N: Laurel, what did you write on the bottom
of your card?
L: I love . and now I have to write
T: (getting up) No. That's not how you spell
A: L-o-v-e.
T: (to A, pointing at L's card) That's a I.
N: She wrote I love and I think she's going
to write something next.

The primary focus of the session was spelling and

word construction. At the beginning of the session it was

as if the children could talk of nothing else. They took

very few breaks during this intense work with the mechanics

of print.

L: (to N) Is this how you spell it?
N: What are you trying to spell?
L: You.
N: Y . .
L: o . .
N: Right.
L: Just a teeny o. (N laughs)
N: A teeny o. And then u. You've got it.
(T looks)
A: There's a u in Maureen.
N: U is in Maureen. You're right.
A: I know. M starts with Megan, Maureen,
T: And Daddy.(smiles)
A: And Maureen and Daddy. No. D for Daddy.
J for James.

An interest in the arrangement of writing on the

page was a new concept that emerged in this session. The

children expressed concern that the space be utilized

properly and the card be in good form.

T: Mom, now I runned into . I'm having
trouble with this. (smiling, not distressed)
N: You're having trouble because you're running
into other words, aren't you? (T nods, smiles)
Can you go down to the bottom where there's
plenty of space?
T: Yeah, I'm trying to.

The children concentrated on correctness of form as

they wrote. The choice of utensil was a factor in this


A: I'll erase it. Terry, use a pencil so if
you mess up you'll be able to erase.

The children definitely made composing a two-step

process. They spent a long time writing and getting their

messages just the way they wanted them. They then completed

the process by drawing. Their illustrations for the most

part pertained to the holiday with many colorful Easter

eggs and baskets in evidence. The time spent in conversa-

tional breaks from composing increased during this drawing


An examination of the children's cards would have

yielded a hodge-podge of letters and drawings, some

recognizable words and names, and a message that had been

colored in and was barely legible. The richness of the

graphic linguistic awareness and the increasing skills

in composing would have gone undetected. Fifty-five

minutes of complex and varied processes contributed to

the reworked and dogeared products that were delivered

with pride to the persons intended.

Episode 14--Individual Books

The children and the researcher held a discussion on

the way home from the previous episode about the activity

for the coming session. The children decided to make a